For the last eight years, I have been the caretaker of a sole pine tree. It currently resides in my back yard on hill. Officially, its species is Colorado Blue Spruce. Unofficially, it’s a different story. Anyone who has seen the “Peanuts” Christmas special knows what a “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree. For the uninitiated, that is a pine tree that is, well, somewhat of a runt. The unofficial breed of my tree seems to fall into the “Charlie Brown” category, sad to say, regardless of what its pedigree claims it to be.
I first got the tree in one of those Arbor Day Foundation promos. It’s the one where if you send a certain donation to be a member, you get free trees. It’s really a roundabout way of purchasing ten trees, but making you feel like you’re supporting a great cause. For three years I signed up for the promo. One time it was some kind of sugar maple that came through, and the other two times I received Colorado Blue Spruces. The net result of all this effort is this sole surviving pine tree.
After eight years in my care, the tree is about a foot high and a foot wide at its fattest point. According to the diagram that came along with it, its growth chart states that we were supposed to have a grand Christmas with the thing dressed up in our living room by now. But alas, that has not been the fate for this little tree. Heightwise, it has barely increased in size since the day we got it. Since you don’t get seeds as your gift, you get saplings, I would guess that the tree was already two years old when we first got it. So at ten years old, it is almost as old as it is inches tall at this point. But the good part is that it’s doing better than its original siblings. It’s still alive.
The Colorado Blue Spruce is said to be a very hardy tree. This makes sense, seeing that its native terrain is the Rockies, and it has to try and grow in wild temperature fluctuations and avalanches. I don’t know if I would be growing to majestic heights if I were subjected to alternating searing temperatures and subarctic conditions with no recourse. I’d be needing air conditioning and a good heating system to get me through the day, thank you. Sure, I can brag all I want about being able to withstand winters in upstate New York. Of course I can; with insulated housing, a warm stove, and indoor plumbing, no problemo. I don’t take too well to the idea of hanging outside in -20 degrees Fahrenheit in my skivvies. Even the members of the Polar Bear Club don’t count. Their forays into the ice are one-day events. They don’t live like that on a regular basis. To be a tree, you’d have to be living like that all winter. Which goes to show you how tough a tree can be. Maybe my tree isn’t doing so badly after all, considering the alternatives.
Sometimes it’s easy to blame the terrain for the tree’s miniature stature, the idea that it needed to be babied like a human to survive. Maybe a gentle, enriched soil would have raised it like an angel unfolding its wings to the heavens, or some other metaphor implying grandeur. But then, it’s time to get real. The terrain it’s in is certainly no worse than the Rockies; one thing the Rockies and the Catskills have in common is that they are both mountain terrain. It’s supposed to grow in rugged conditions, so I can’t blame its stature on that.
Maybe all of this conjecture is useless, and I am better off accepting that I have a dwarf on my hands. At first it may seem like an overpersonification, amorphosizing a tree. But why not? What’s so weird about the idea of some trees being short, some being tall, and some well, being dwarfs? It’s not so strange if you really think about it. But I have to admit, I myself have to really think about it. It’s a comforting idea, anyway.
Really, though, it could be a false comfort on my part. Especially when you consider what may be the real culprit in the tree’s growth, which is my care of it, or more aptly, the lack thereof. A psychologist would have a field day with all the guilt displacement going on in my previous rationalizations, which is why I am glad that psychology is not an exact science and I can ignore any of their findings without qualm. But back to trees and my gardening habits.
Whenever I get seeds, catalogs for growing, or in this case, free trees for a donation to a nonprofit organization, I always start out with the highest enthusiasm and motivation. Hey, I’m a nature buff. I’m ready to do my part in helping nature along. After all, with all the clear cutting and other pollutive policies going on, nature needs all the help she can get. So I vow to plant gardens, trees, and other such things of beauty. I’m all ready to go, until I see the directions that accompany said gardens, trees, and other things of beauty.
I run into a bit of an impasse when the directions inform me that there is more to nature than drilling a six inch hole, dropping seeds in, and six months later, voila, instant Eden or instant Redwood Forest. My eyes begin to glaze over once I see these diagrams on pruning, loaming, composting, dividing the pH balance with the square root of the viscosity of the soil minus the temperature of the sky in Kelvin multiplied by the temperature of the sky added to the product of the third Sunday in August with the date of last freeze. Then, on the botanical psychology note, I have to worry if nightshades get along with carrots and other such therapeutic interests. I still don’t know if beans and green peppers are friends or not; I have enough trouble keeping up with the presidential election than to worry about codependency issues between sweet corn and pine trees.
No thank you. Quite frankly, I don’t want to work that hard for my nature. After a therapy session where I’ve learned all the plant hangups I have to master if I want to raise a happy garden, I’ve had it. Give me my hiking boots and I’ll go to the forest that’s nice and full-grown already. On the way home, I’ll stop at the grocery store. The only work the produce there needs me to do is put it in a bag and take it home. Ah- the comforts of modern civilization, the real reason why the simple life won’t win out over mass technology without a disaster. Who needs to toil the land like Adam when you can drive to the supermarket like the Jetsons?
Because of this innate laziness, it is surprising that they tree has lived at all. It survived two transplants: once from potted soil to a plot in a ground, and from there into a pot, where it withstood a seven hour commute in a car. Finally, it settled into its final planting ground; a colder area than it previously saw in its lifetime, with rougher terrain. For five years in a row, it has withstood five feet of snowdrift crushing, dogs and cats expressing their opinions on it, and most recently, the massive rains of Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne. When Ivan struck, there were people who lived near the river, not all that far from us, who had to be evacuated. In some areas, the floods from the river reached three feet. Where the tree is, if three feet of floodwater rushed at it, it may have very well not survived. Luckily, this was not the case, and the tree is still here to live another day.
I’m not exactly sure if the tree will ever grow to be any taller than it is, at this point. I’ve considered moving it to a grove of trees, seeing that the soil must be fairly good for those trees to survive there. But I haven’t, for mostly selfish reasons. Once it’s moved, I’ll lost track of it in the masses. It is sort of like giving up a pet that you’ve had for eight years; you know that it is alive somewhere, but you have no contact with it, or know what kind of life it has now. That is how it is like with the tree. It would be lost among the myriad of young trees that are scattered among the woods, struggling to survive.
I have no intention of moving the tree any time soon, but thinking about the grove of trees where it might make its eventual home makes me ponder the situation of how trees survive. All trees make their way in the world this way, pushing through the land, competing with rivals and even their siblings to get their grasp of the sun, so one day they can reach into the sky. The life of this one tree is just an atom in the microcosm of the forest world. The tenacity of this little so-called “Charlie Brown” tree is representative of the tenacity of nature herself, and of how much Nature is willing to fight to keep herself alive.
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