Sad day for our house and neighborhood, watching our huge Monterey pine cut down. With a diameter of over three feet, the old tree was already a giant when we moved into its yard in 1994.
We had it trimmed and topped several times to reduce its weight, but age and drought finally won, along with the attacks of beetles and fungus. This spring the new fronds at the ends of its branches began to brown and drop, beginning its death march.
For several days this week, the loud staccato wails and grinding drones of chainsaws and chippers seemed to come from inside my head like a trip to the dentist. Even in its final state the old tree is hard to bring down, resisting and only giving itself up chunk by chunk.
We always thought the yard belonged to the pine. Everywhere we dig we find a tangle of roots, some thicker than utility pipes, pushing through native slate and skimming the surface before diving again. If the tree ever fell it would take the yard and house with it, which is why we had to remove it once it died. We are its tenants, but for once in history the tenants are evicting the landlord.
Our sky will seem so bare. I find myself apologizing to the tree the way I always apologize when I cut down a Christmas tree, but this giant requires deeper remorse. I won’t take all the blame for the drought, but scientists tell us our cars, furnace, and power plants are much to blame, and I own some of the polluters.
We have plans to replace it with a redwood, natural to our dry hillside and our dripping Bay Area fog, assuming we can find a space in our yard relatively free of resistant pine roots. Although it will take several decades for the redwood sapling to fill the ecological void left by the Monterey pine, it feels like penance. Not enough but a start.
“Peeling the Handle” springs from one of my very earliest memories. The timing of its publication is perfect because the poem features my mother whose birthday comes in August.
My parents eloped to California and settled in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where I was born, though they never called it eloping. They lived in a Quonset hut recommissioned to house veterans on a South Dakota air force base after the government drew down the active units following WWII.
Neither set of my grandparents approved of the marriage because of conflicting religions, and my mother and father were too proud to renounce their backgrounds. My German Lutheran mother would never convert to the Roman Catholicism of my father’s Irish family nor would she raise her children Catholic. My father supported her conviction and refused to confess his sin in the eyes of the church or renounce his marriage. He stayed away from either denomination for most of his life.
Leaving their families in Minneapolis must have been hard for both of them, but my mother had it worse because my father had already spent several years overseas in the Army. Once their children were born, both sets of grandparents welcomed them home in spite of the religious rift. So I guess my sisters and I played the role of peacemakers, though we were unaware at the time.
Note: the above Wikimedia Commons image shows Quonset huts in The Bronx in 1947.