"A tree beside the sandy
Holds up its topmost boughs
Like fingers towards the skies
They cannot reach,
“This is the soul of man.
Body and brain
Hungry for earth
our heavenly flight detain.”
Sri Aurobindo (1872 – 1950) “Tree”
Our rain may be over for now. The storms this past weekend, including the gusty winds, have made a mess outside my back window, shredding my fish-shaped whirligig, overturning empty flower pots, leaving downed pine needles and small branches askew in puddles. But towering over the disheveled yard, the old and diseased pine tree that anchors the whole yard is still standing. In past winter storms we’ve watched as the taller older branches are pruned by gusts of wind, leaving the tree looking like a headless, distressed bonsai, albeit considerably bigger.
The coast live oak I planted beneath the pine last October is struggling. You can see the top of the oak's head peeking over the rocks at the base of the pine tree in both pictures. I expected some die back as it settled into it’s new home, but it’s going to have to work for a living - at least until it finds the secret paths beneath the waterfall rocks that have kept the pine alive. Both trees are situated in the high point of the yard, amid large rocks tossed there 40 years ago by the home builder to clear the footprint where the house stands (see the roof in the background of the second picture).
The so-called soil where the trees are planted is a thin covering of pine needles and dirt deposited since then, and amended once or twice with my compost. This veneer of soil covers a surface we generously call DG rock, aka decomposing granite. This means the “soil” is actually not quite dissolved rock, and thus not very root-friendly. I’ve got a tough old wisteria ‘alba’ on the arbor at the bottom of the big rocks. You can see the bare wisteria branches next to the arbor in the first picture. The wisteria is like the older tree, both are patient enough to take their time working roots through the same unforgiving soil.
I’ve amended the live oak’s feet with compost, and even planted some allium bulbs in the same spot. They’re beginning to poke their heads up beneath the ubiquitous nasturtiums that don’t seem to take much notice of the seasons. While they bloom madly in the spring, nasturtiums continue to bloom any time they get a decent watering.
My design here is pretty simple. The idea is that by the time the old pine finally succumbs, the live oak will stand ready to take it’s place, eventually providing shade for whoever else manages to cling to the meager soil and patiently assist the granite in its decomposition.
I’ve situated the black stone Buddha head at the trunk of the pine, where it protects the tiny sapling growing out of its brain. The dying old tree and it’s optimistic offspring quietly provide a metaphor for such slow changes man witnesses: bound here on earth where we linger a while before continuing our journey to our ultimate destination.