How People are Like Trees (and why that’s a secret to a more joyful life)
“But can you tell me where he gets his whiskey?”
— Abraham Lincoln (or maybe not)
In 1863, the New York Herald published this story regarding President Lincoln’s response to criticism of General Grant:
A committee of abolition war managers waited upon the President and demanded the General’s removal, on the false charge that he was a whiskey drinker and little better than a common drunkard. “Ah!” exclaimed Honest Old Abe, “You surprise me, gentlemen. But can you tell me where he gets his whiskey?” “We cannot, Mr. President. But why do you desire to know?” “Because, if I can only find out, I will send a barrel of this wonderful whiskey to every general in the army.”
No one’s quite sure if Lincoln actually said this. And if he did, it’s likely he took inspiration from others before him who had said similar things. My favorite of these might be King George II. An advisor criticized one of the king’s military appointments, saying he was unfit for the role because he was a madman. The king responded that he hoped his appointee would bite some of his other generals to transmit the madness.
In Washington, D.C., just seven miles away from the Lincoln Memorial (where there is no mention of General Grant’s whiskey) is another national treasure: the United States National Arboretum. Winding roads and trails take you through groves of holly and magnolia trees, Japanese woodlands, incredible azaleas, dogwoods, a grove of every state tree, and a panoramic view of the Anacostia River. It’s one of my favorite places in the District.
But of all the wonders in the arboretum, my favorite is the National Bonsai Museum. It’s home to more than three hundred of the most incredible bonsai trees I’ve ever seen. And at the heart of this collection is my favorite tree. Not just my favorite in the collection — my favorite tree. It’s a nearly four-hundred-year-old Japanese pine.