Sunday, April 17, 2011

Plant a Tree

Only the massive trunk is visible in most of my pictures, so completely out of scale to the unimportant human activity taking place beneath it, is my tree.

"You can live for years next door to a big pine tree, honored to have so venerable a neighbor, even when it sheds needles all over your flowers or wakes you, dropping big cones onto your deck at still of night.
- Denise Levertov, Threat

My comfortable porch on a hot summer day

Gardening is not a sure thing here in central Wisconsin. Since the beginning of March we've had a scant handful of days, certainly no more than five, with temperature hitting 50 degrees. Today the wind is gusting to about 40 miles per hour with the flag a couple yards over whipped straight out from its pole.

Winds like these can cause dessication of evergreen plants like azaleas and rhododendrons, turning the leaves a nasty brown or "burning" the needles of conifers, particularly the Alberta spruce. A chemical anti-desiccant can be sprayed on evergreens and conifers. In the winter, many gardeners wrap their ornamental spruce in burlap to stave off the effects of these types of winds.

Wind, for me, is always ominous. My house is built under the shade of an over 100-year-old white pine. White self-prune, dropping branches as they grow and age. The tops of white pines develop these craggy features as they are buffeted by the winds.

There is a picture of my house, newly built, maybe around 1880. There is nothing around my house, just bare ground. It is a street view, looking down the street. My neighbors' houses for the most part, are citizens of the future, the road is yet unpaved. The picture does not pan wide enough to show the outhouse that would be torn down in 1959 when my house got its indoor plumbing and the back stoop was converted to an awkward 6' by 24' addition nor the side porch enclosed to frame out my galley kitchen. The outhouse's location ironically becoming the source of great composted material, where I would unwittingly site my nutrient-loving massive rhubarb plant. The picture also does not show the middens heap where the residents tossed their broken china and worn-out tin cans, lost a flint, and is the present site of my potager.

What the picture does show is a scraggly white pine, maybe four feet tall. I can imagine the person who planted it, a short Welsh immigrant, no doubt, as Wild Rose was first settled by Welsh relocating from Wales and the mines in Mineral Point, which were becoming more and more difficult from which to easily extracted lead ore. Until I bought my house,it was owned by a long line of Jones, most with the given name of either Robert or John, one after another like a corded rope. Up until the time I was a small girl, church services were still held in Welsh here, even after the Catholics had given up on Latin. There are paisley shawls, in the local historical museum woven in Paisley, Wales, and not a few brittle tomes that can be nothing other than family Bibles printed in Welsh as well.

I can imagine them digging the white pine up from one of the swampier areas and bringing it into town. There are maybe a dozen such transplants in town in this day. In the shelter of "my" white pine, it is at least ten degrees cooler in the summer.

There is nothing I can do to protect my tree from the winds. I have to take faith in the thought that it has been here longer than I and suffered through many such winds. Winds that at some point over 50 or more years ago, possibly in 1959 when a tornado touched down in Waushara County, changed the top of my tree--without damaging my house.

Last February, we had one of those freak thunderstorms with hail and winds that took down a massive limb. It was about 4:30 AM, and I was marginally awake watching one of those ghost hunter-type shows on the SyFy channel. I didn't hear any mighty crack, but rather a prolonged whooshing and crashing as the limb, probably as big around as my thigh and 12' long, crashed downward barreling into first one limb and then another on its descent. When it finally came to rest on my roof, what seemed five minutes later, it miraculously did no damage. During its descent, I thought the ghosts of the lost tribes of Wales had all gathered to scare the English from their home under the white pine they had planted with no real anticipation of ever resting beneath its cool, shady bows.

"The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit."
- Nelson Henderson

For other wonderful quotes about trees, click here.

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