Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sequoia Trees

Over the last twenty years I have acquired a great respect for trees. During my childhood in the West Highlands of Scotland, trees were associated with four things: something to climb, something to tie a rope swing to, something to burn, and something to avoid hitting when one's car veers off the road. Trees I can recall from my childhood consisted of Conifer, Beech, Elm, Alder, Willow, and the smaller Hazel and Rhododendron. I am sure I am forgetting a few important ones. I had a scant awareness of tree names when I was young, unlike the generations before who took a great interest in botany. In fact my father had a degree in botany and zoology from Cambridge University. Only a little of this botanical knowledge rubbed off on me.

In the British Isles there are examples of most of the world's interesting and impressive trees, especially in the botanical gardens or stately homes. Although I do not recall seeing a giant Sequoia in Scotland, undoubtedly they exist, due to the similarity of climates. In the county of Argyll at sea level there is little concern of frost damage, which allows a very diverse range of trees to do well. In fact, there is a Yucca tree in my village of Ardfern. We thought of it as a palm. It does great and enjoys the warm cross-Atlantic drift that blows up from the gulf of Mexico.

The logging industry (which is referred to as the Forestry Commission in the British Isles) covers otherwise useless land with Fir, Spruce, Larch, etc. My father was friends with one of the supervisors and got us brothers piece work planting trees on a portion of the lairds estate. It was a waste though because we were still childish and spoilt and understood nothing of what it takes to hold a job. We abused this privilege that my father had given us. A privilege that enabled us to work our own hours without any boss overseeing us and the sense of freedom one feels with only heather, moss, and space on the side of a Scottish hill. But we hated the work and ended up betraying those that had trusted us to plant every seedling correctly and with love. We buried bundles of 100 seedling trees in a shallow grave and took credit for having planted them properly. We consequently ended up hating the job even more. And hating ourselves. But we took the good wages and spent them on beer, whiskey and cigarettes, and tried to forget our deceit, and our crimes that had made us an enemy to our father, the Forestry Commission and to mother Earth's greatest plant.

Later in life I confronted my transgression and took a career in landscaping. I found a true respect for trees, and today I consider my self to be very close to a tree hugger. There have been moments when I have been overcome with emotion and with a swell of affection I have taken trees in my arms. It is very good for one's ego to find a tree that is willing to be warmly embraced. Sadly, so many trees are uncomfortable with the physical contact, and the experience is stiff and awkward!

In the summer of 2009, I married a blessed, good, salt-of-the-earth woman with a keen spirit of adventure, and we agreed to spend our honey moon in The Redwoods. It really is something that everyone should do, especially if one is already in the region. I have personally been involved with Coast Redwoods which are not as big as the Giant Redwood, but do well in the gardens of Los Angeles. I planted a row of eight for privacy in The San Fernando Valley, and a grove of six in the Hollywood Hills at the home of the actor Eric Lutes, and an unwieldy 36 inch box specimen for privacy outside a client's second story master bedroom in Deep Canyon. Sequoias are not a fussy tree. The only point of note is, they appreciate a good drink when the are being established. Their favorite is a manure tea . . . and a Rich Tea biscuit, because after all "a cup of tea is too wet without one"!

These magnificent trees are recommended for a formal hedge. On a Beverly Hills job I witnessed this very thing. These trees had been clipped and topped at eighteen feet. I thought it was a bloody, sacrilegious shame. But not as great a shame as the Sequoia that had to be chopped down. It was a lovely mature and healthy tree. It was really no danger to anyone, but it had been planted in a bad spot. It was close to the garage of a house in Coldwater Canyon. The suckered-up crow of the tree had swollen to a considerable girth, and the side gate was barely passable. It had a twin that was left, thankfully. I didn't do the dirty work myself. The tree was removed by Leonardo Mauricio Vargas. I did agreed to take the rounds for firewood, some of which went to Conroy's Irish Pub. I felt this was better than having it turned into mulch or wood chips.

We made our pilgrimage up north, and it was truly heart warming to see the Sequoia Forests of Northern California. God bless the National Parks for protecting and preserving this amazing treasure. It is fascinating the way the roads weave through the woods. The road builders seem to have been on a quest to get the road through without removing one more tree than they absolutely had to. Talk about trying not to hit trees! The county council just stick a reflector on the tree and hope motorists see them. Many of the trees that hug the road have gashes from inattentive drivers.

We drove on the highway called "The Avenue of Giants" and ventured into the forest on foot. The rain came gently down and rays of sun illuminated the lush verdant moss on every limb.

We played duets on our bagpipes and pleasantly surprised some walkers. In fact we chose the same grove as a man and his wife who had long since been denied the sound of the pipes that had been dear to them. The man's father had played the pipes and he had tried them himself. They said that the occasion had been made a hundred times more memorable by our playing. They had been deep in the ancient quiet secluded forest when in the distance they heard the distinctive and unforgettable sound of the Great Highland Bagpipes. As they hurried towards us we experienced the usual uncertainty over whether we had pleased or displeased our unsuspecting audience. Fortunately it was the former.

Upon the return to my ordinary life, I mused over this romantic foray into the world of vineyards, ocean cliffs and giant trees, and felt I had enriched my life. I have a greater love for trees and a heightened desire to plant and care for trees. I vow to exploit every resource I have in the world of trees. I have strong ties with Robert Wallace, a much respected old time arborist, who referred me many times, including a shot at the Warren Beatty Estate. Dane Shota formerly of Orange County Nursery and Robert Hansen are also great resources for consultation and esoteric tree knowledge. I have two in-house tree trimming experts who consistently produce very pretty results, and for the "heavy lifting" I have L. M. Vargas Tree Care. Mauricio's family-run business was founded when their old employer, Patrick McCullough, well known arborist and founder of the tree care company of the same name, passed away. It was with Patrick that Mauricio and his relatives perfected their skill climbing without noisy ladders or damaging spurs. And learnt the merits of avoiding the use of obnoxious and polluting chainsaws.

It has been many years since those childhood days of climbing trees and chopping wood. To me trees have become much, more. They cast cool shade on hot L.A. gardens. They soften the stark modern architecture of the city. They screen neighbors and create the illusion of seclusion. But, the wonderful diverse trees in our gardens do even more than that. They warm our hearts with breathtaking color in spring blossoms, and autumn leaves. They inhale pollution, and emit oxygen.

Trees do all this for me, and I still enjoy the beloved smell of wood smoke on the odd day that it is cold enough to justify a fire. That sweet aroma was so much a part of my life in the cold wet Old Country all those years ago. I am grateful for trees. More than ever, since I visited the Giant Redwoods of Northern California.

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