The Araucaria hterophylla that loomed large over my life, the one that shadowed my childhood, met its end today. Melodramatic? Maybe, but the only real home I’ve ever known took a hit and I’m going to ruminate on it.
On the southeastern corner of my parents house, the Norfolk Island Pine pictured above dominated the edge of our unfenced front yard. When my parents bought the house in the early 1980s, the tree didn’t even reach our house’s lowest roof slat. At the end, it could have easily towered about seventy or eighty feet in the air at its tip top.
Cliche alert: the gigantic fixtures of our lives that we take for granted are immemorial and invisible until they’re removed; sometimes, they have to go because they’ve reached their obsolescence naturally. Other times, it’s because their stubborn roots are screwing up your house’s foundation and the neighbors callously dismiss them as an unnecessary eyesore. “Screw you, neighbor” you mutter under your breath, “you don’t talk about my tree like that, asshole. I don’t care if your dog is really cute and friendly.” You stay quiet, though, until cooler heads prevail and the removal preparations are made.
My dad, with his fatherly resignation and dour humor, said several times that he feels like his main duty as of late has been consigned to declarations of “Kill that thing.” Is this an overreaction? Couldn’t we just plant a new tree, or at least enjoy the extra space afforded for the front yard? No, not really. Count the rings of the poor pine’s trunk and they’d be equivalent to the time it took for my parents to raise a family and retire–time that it took for my brother and I to become young men. Now that time is over. We still got pictures.
And, in lieu of some new star pine seedlings, I’ll plant these couple memories here in case I forget about the old star pine: the miserly San Diego rain, when it actually did deign to fall on our plot, made the sodden ferns of the pine bob and sag as they dripped moisture. With the proper gold-grey lighting from the street lamps, the tree hulked and swayed in the rain like a shadowed giant, breathing slowly in the dark. Then, in the driest summer months, I remember picking up the brittle, brown ferns that it shed and running my thumb across it’s needles as if they were tines on a comb. The tree trunk was dry and hot to the touch. From the end of the street, the pine remained utterly still, an immovable sentinel. It distinguished our house from the rest of the pre-fab homes on our street. It changed and stayed the same every year, defining a big part of my family home. In my mind, it probably always will.
Vaya con dios, big guy.