Wednesday, April 27, 2011
This unimpressive baby Pinus canariensis, eighteen inches tall, may someday tower eighty feet and and is only one of the twenty-five Canary Island seedlings we've just planted. Intermingled among them are another twenty-five potential giants: adolescent Sequoia sempervirens, Aptos Blue Coast Redwoods. We've spent a back-wrenching two weeks getting these trees into the ground on a precarious hillside, slick with duff, pocked by gopher holes, and strewn with the stumps of our first pine forest.
This was made up of graceful deep green Montereys, long since decimated by pitch pine canker. Sad to have to cut them down, not to mention a tremendous amount of work (buddies with chainsaws, Mike and I hauling slash to the dump for weeks), but the sick trees are finally gone, and the few survivors were spared because we didn't have the heart to clearcut that hill.
Mostly because we remember very well what it was like to plant those Monterey seedlings a quarter of a century ago. Our four kids, now in their thirties, married, with kids of their own, were very young back then. And we ourselves were newly-weds, still figuring out how people survived what was euphemistically called the "blended family." So we came up with group projects, meant to trigger enthusiasm for this new life none of the kids had freely chosen. Just think! we kept telling them as the six of us tucked those seedlings into that formidable hill: by the time you have kids of your own, these trees will be gigantic!
And indeed they grew fast and tall, filtering the sunlight, swaying in the wind, catching the precious California rain. They provided hundreds of cones for the gray squirrels, high perches for the red-tailed hawks and great horned owls and the lone great blue heron who came to fish the turtle pond. When the kids, one by one, got married on our property, the brides in their white silk gowns walked through that forest on the arms of their fathers. And when the grandchildren began to arrive, one of the first things they learned was how to negotiate the trail through the pines to get to Grandma and Grandpa's house.
So how could we not reforest? Does it matter that by the time these baby Canary Island pines reach their full height, Mike will be in his nineties? Does it matter that our kids will be senior citizens, our grandkids on their way to middle age, and the great blue heron but a feathery question mark--did we really have a heron? are we making this up?--from a quickly disappearing past?
In the old days, when most of us lived on the land and science had not yet revolutionized our modes of perception, we still understood that the world is alive with meaning and the heavens proclaim the glory of God. We knew without being instructed that the fragility and brevity of our lives require living touchstones, symbols of the eternity we cannot yet begin to fathom: the ageless seas, great, glacier-carved granite rocks, the endless sky, and towering trees.