Sunday, January 10, 2010

Our BIG tree

I'm in love.....with the big Douglas Fir tree on our property, ever since I first gazed up into it's branches back in 1973! I was told at the time that the tree was estimated to be about 250 years old. It was certainly the biggest thing on the property when we bought the 7 acres with the objective of building our first house on this south sloping piece of land. Before construction started we'd often drive out and picnic under the tree....thankful for the shade in Summer and the canopy umbrella in Winter!

It grew just down slope from a row of 100 year old Black Walnuts, and the majority of the remaining slope was planted in an orchard of much younger English Walnut trees. Once we had built our dream home and were settled in, our two young boys would often climb into the tree from an unusually low-hanging branch that seemed to literally scoop them up. I remember one day out in the garden hearing calls from somewhere far away....looking up, I discovered the boys had climbed more than 60 feet up into the canopy and were peering excitedly out through the feathery foliage. Easier going up than coming down! The branches radiated out from the trunk at regular intervals, so once up, it was almost like climbing a ladder. The one thing that made the tree different was the fact that it had twin trunks that had apparently split from the original trunk when the tree was just a sapling.

This made the tree very wide, and because it had grown out in the open and not in a forest setting, the branches reach out even further and bend to the ground. Over the years it has housed owls, red-tailed hawks, raccoons and many other animals who have left their markings. A few years ago , when we had fenced in the vineyard block where the tree resides, a few young fawns were apparently trapped inside. ( The fence was meant to keep the deer out!) After spending a day trying to round the young deer up and out through a gate, we discovered the last fawn nested down in the grass in a totally hidden spot under one of the low hanging fir branches. It was the perfect hiding place!

I just finished reading a great book called 'Wild Trees' about the magnificent Redwoods and their unique canopies. It made me curious about our own tree, which at roughly only 125 ft. high, is a dwarf in comparison. But it holds a similar ecosystem within it's branches! My husband and children are the only ones who have ventured up into its branches, but now I am tempted to explore myself. Over the years storms have broken off large branches which dangled dangerously above areas where we often walked. The vineyard isn't far away and a bench sits directly under the for safety reasons we needed to get up into the tree and cut a branch or two. My husband is also a mountain climber, so his belay ropes have been used on occasion for protection. I now know that there are new harnesses and lighter rope systems used by experienced tree climbers for just that purpose. They were designed to climb trees like the Redwoods where the first branch grows out from the trunk 130 ft. up.

But even from ground level, there is a lot to see... Upon examining the bark near the base of the tree you can identify dozens of different lichen that create an amazing topographical image... almost looking like a Google Earth photo taken from space! Looking up into the branches I can see several large growths on the branches, along with the typical moss, ferns and rain forest greenery that covers many of the trees here in the Pacific Northwest.

When I think of this tree, and the larger Redwoods and Sequoia's, I realize how small and insignificant humans are in the scheme of things. Our lives are so short, and our time on earth so fleeting compared to the hundreds, and even thousands of years that some of these trees have stood and grown, and offered shelter. But we have the power to destroy these trees in the blink of an eye.

We will continue to be the steward of this tree and of the forest land nearby. I am eager to get to know them more... perhaps by climbing into their canopy, or by drawing and sketching them during the various seasons. They do truly bring me joy and happiness by just existing! I often stand on our deck and can watch as a large hawk circles and lands on the very top of the fir...what a wonderful thing that would be... to so effortlessly be able to perch on a tiny branch reaching toward the sky. I wonder how many visitors have landed there during the tree's lifetime?

Why not plant a tree today... or at least this year?