Tourists in tree country Skyward: Jim Rose hopes that people who understand trees will understand each other. 'If you just set your mind in the habit of noticing things, you start noticing people,' he says.

November 01, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

Jim Rose is a soft-spoken, humble man who writes computer programs to filter data collected by the Hubble Space Telescope. If he ever raised his voice, he would probably tell everyone, "SLOW DOWN AND LOOK AT THE TREES!"

For several months, he has been quietly inspiring others to do just that.

Rose leads tree tours through his Columbia neighborhood. Groups of eight can be seen ambling down the street. They point at branches, pick at leaves, nod their heads. And they carry Rose's computer-generated maps, which pinpoint the location and identity of 517 trees in a nine-block area.

Rose, 58, also leads tours outside his office at the Space Telescope Science Institute on the Johns Hopkins University campus. His programming job there makes him no stranger to stress. Rigid deadlines? Rose and his colleagues have a Feb. 13 space shuttle launch hanging over their heads.

"Everybody is starting to feel it," Rose says.

So what is he doing spending all that time staring skyward, contemplating the finer points of a towering tulip poplar?

Possibly starting a trend, says Geoffrey Godbey of Pennsylvania State University, a leading time-management sociologist. Godbey says Americans have more free time then they did 25 years ago but don't realize it because they are swamped by pressures to exercise more, read more, play with children more, sleep more.

"But it's possible that rushing has peaked," Godbey says. "He [Rose] could be a bellwether citizen."

Rose can only hope. A world that stops to understand trees today, he muses, is one where people will understand each other tomorrow.

"These are baby steps," he says while walking near his home and pointing out a cluster of littleleaf lindens. "If you just set your mind in the habit of noticing things, you start noticing people."

Rose's philosophy seems to be catching, even among those under great stress.

Among them is Olivia Lupie, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute who says she hasn't had a decent vacation in three years. As the shuttle launch approaches, she expects to put in at least 70 hours a week.

In recent months, however, she has taken seven brief tree tours outside the institute. She says that keeping her brain going is the best way for her to relax. Lupie also tours the trees alone.

"You look up at the trees and you notice things like the wind bristling through the leaves," she says, "whereas before, you were thinking about work, you were thinking about problems. It's a wonderful way to just take a step back and put your concentration on something else, something beautiful."

For Rose, tree identification did not start off as such a lofty pursuit. He used to watch birds but tired of their flying away.

"If you've got a question about a tree, you can come back to it. If it's a bird, forget about it," Rose says with a New York accent that has faded over the years.

Four years ago, he said farewell to birding and purchased a copy of "The National Audubon Society Guide to North American Trees, Eastern Region," which he started carrying the book through his neighborhood in Columbia.

More than 30 years ago, designers of the planned community left large clusters of native trees. Developers, homebuilders and homeowners have planted more trees.

In Rose's Phelps Luck neighborhood, there are more than 65 tree species. "The goldenrain is perhaps my favorite tree," Rose says. "It's got a complex leaf structure. It's a multiple leaf, and each leaflet is intricate. It blooms in July. And then it has these Japanese lantern-like fruit capsules."

The goldenrain is a highlight of the free tour he leads through his neighborhood, which participants learned about through community association newsletters.

Before the tours start, Rose passes out small guidebooks, complete with poetry, that -- at least for this neighborhood -- explains Columbia's often unusual, literature-based street names. In Phelps Luck, the street names follow the works of Robinson Jeffers, an American pacifist poet of the early 20th century

In Rose's guidebook, tree tourists learn this about a street named Eaglebeak Row: "In a poem (1938) about a she-eagle who has faced the ravages of time, Jeffers writes in 'The Beaks of Eagles': It is good for a man/To try all changes, progress and corruption,/powers, peace and anguish, not to go down/the dinosaur's way."

Rose also has mapped 362 trees for a Quaker retirement community in Sandy Spring and is mapping hundreds of trees in his sister's Chevy Chase neighborhood.

He still leads colleagues on tours around the institute. The Columbia tours, which take place in the twilight, have stopped until spring because of the earlier sunsets. Rose's tree-tour graduates are out there, though.

One of them, Jean Silver-Isenstadt, spends most of her days in her Phelps Luck home writing a doctoral dissertation on the history of medicine. When she needs a break, she goes for a walk and studies the trees.

"I'm looking up," she says. "I'm not just looking down."

Pub Date: 11/01/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.