REQUIEM TO A PINE ….
We lost a focus of our landscape. We lost a refuge. We lost a friend.
“What is that tree?” I asked Kay Thorp when we took a quick walk outdoors the first morning after arriving at the Locke House November 1, 1992. “It’s a Canary Island Pine. Unusual. Lovely. Look at those pine cones!” Kay, who had revived the gardens at the Locke House and preserved the historic trees, plants and shrubs, always delighted in someone discovering a surprise in the garden. To that end she was always adding an unusual plant just to see if it would grow.
Now more than 25 years later, we and our guests at the Inn at Locke House are still enjoying those plants. Kay would be mourning had she seen that magnificent tree, assaulted by constant rains and strong winds, being uprooted and falling onto the front of the house.
I never fully realized how tall it was until the damage it caused was assessed: chimney, roof shingles, gutter, and windows on the third story; almost all the second story porch and French doors; and masonry, door panels, parts of the front porch, and items around the porch. It had hit the roof, third story, second story, first story and still trunk and branches extended beyond the front porch and out into a flower bed.
The night of the storm, we, inside, had no indication of it falling. All we heard was a strong “whooshing” sound from our quarters on the first floor that I assumed was the wind. Inn guests on the second floor heard glass shattering, saying they thought it was part of a dream. All were struck by the intense pine fragrance that filled the house once we opened the doors of our rooms. I began exploring downstairs. Upstairs I was met in the hall by a guest, both of us startled by the sight of the pine branches protruding through the antique french door. I needed a camera.
As I walked around taking photos, I was struck by the contrast of my concept of this tree as delicate and the fierce force it had as it fell. I found myself more concerned about the tree than the obvious extensive damage to the house that we had spent years rehabilitating and restoring to find new life as an inn. I knew the house could be repaired – we had done it once, we could do it again. But the tree – that pine tree –what could I do? I wanted to hold its branches, inhale the fragrance, and somehow preserve it. The entire root ball was still attached, the great hole in the ground was open. It could be replanted, I thought for a split second, all someone had to do was push it back in its hole. I loved that tree!
When the tree trimmers arrived to cut the tree away from the house, the reality of the pine tree’s fate hit me. Now, I would have to resign myself to happy memories of it, stirred by photos taken over the years.
After hours of weeding the flower beds in the front garden, I liked nothing better than walking under its lower branches and feeling the almost silky needles touch my shoulders and fill my nostrils with that beautiful scent that is fresh pine. When our visiting grandsons played hide and seek, one of us would always find a reason to hide in the canopy, scrunched behind the trunk. The “pine hider” had a magical spot to meditate and wait to be found.
Its beautiful pine cones were much sought after by guests as souvenirs and booty for winter holiday decorations. In one of my campaigns to find extra funds for additional garden plants, I created packages of them to sell after one of our holiday teas. Child guests at the inn packed them in suitcases for show and tell sessions in their classrooms back home. I found them to be very effective deterrents to the feral cats that try to make beds in our flower beds, and would even spread them on the front porch bench and chair cushions to keep little renegade kittens from lounging there.
Then last year – November 6, 2016 to be exact – through an inn guest staying on business for a new nursery being developed in the foothills, the proper name of that pine was revealed: Pinus wallichiana “Himalayan Weeping Pine”. Not a Canary Island Pine but still an exotic specimen. And its name does describe the tree: the needles do weep; the cones are like its tears – oh, my poetic soul is loving this! There is some dispute among my gardening friends about the identification of my pine. But there is no dispute as to its beauty and what it contributed to the soul of the gardens. It will be missed but we will be keeping our eyes out for little seedlings that just might emerge in a couple of years. I know just the spots to plant them.