My favorite tree is the Ponderosa pine that clings to the thin rocky soil in my front yard. On warm still days, I smell the turpentine scent of sap and wonder whether birds will build a nest in the birdhouse nailed high up the trunk. The pine is in its middle years, the top still rounded and the bark more grooved than smooth, more sooty-gray than orange. Some say pine bark smells like vanilla, but breaking off and sniffing a tiny piece, I breathed the rankness of sap and turpentine, and summer camping trips to the mountains, not the tropical sweetness of vanilla. The lower trunk of my favorite pine is bare, the branches pruned by a contractor (I expect) rather than burned by wildfire or snapped off by wind. The wind flails the tree top, loosening browned needles, clumped in threes, and prickly-edged cones that plummet in a strange projectile rain. A squirrel frequents this Ponderosa, and finches, robins, and a Western Scrub-Jay* scolding, the pine a waypoint, my presence incidental.
My other favorite tree is a stump, the bark long gone, the trunk silvered and etched with grooves like expansion joints, or stretch marks. I’ve seen this stump any number of times on my walks but today I looked more closely and noticed the top was rough as if torn or weathered, not the smooth cut of a sharp saw. I stepped near the rock edge to see the other side of the stump, what I expected to be an arc of wood, but instead it was concave, the inside the black-tiled charcoal of a partly burned log. I pushed gently on the stump but it did not budge, the thick root wedged between boulders that, perhaps centuries ago, had been a single rock outcrop. A few paces distant is a weathered chunk of concrete that had been a foundation block for the fire lookout. During summers fifty years ago, someone sat in the tower watching clouds metamorphose into thunderheads, scanning a panorama of mountains, buttes, and volcanic cinder cones, searching for the first telltale smoke from a lightning strike.
What I realize is that favoritism can be fleeting and memories fickle.
Western Scrub-Jay – Aphelocoma californica.
Photo from Katie Eberhart’s personal photo library.