8. Shore pine: Don't tread on me
There’s no blog opening more boring and deflating than “Wow, it has been a while since my last post!” But friends, it has been. I don’t expect you to especially care about tardiness on a tree blog, but I can identify a number of factors, some more interesting and legitimate than others.
I was travelling a bunch over the summer, sometimes to visit trees and sometimes to snuggle friends’ tiny babies. I was grounded by the noxious smoke from wildfires that filled the skies for most of August. I was ushering many fall books through the editorial and production cycle. I was overwhelmed by the sheer task of finding and writing about all of these trees, many of which are remote and hard to locate.
And above all, I was busy falling in love.
I started this blog on June 1, 2018, as a way to mark my one-year anniversary back in Vancouver and chronicle some of the adventures I was having in coastal forests and mountains. But a major role of the blog was to focus my attention on something other than dating.
Throughout my late twenties and early thirties, I had a habit of choosing partners who, though loving, were never quite right for me, nor I for them. I feared attachment, believing it meant I would lose my independence; I feared opening my heart only to have it broken. I chose polyamorous lovers even though I am at most a flirtatious monogamist. I fell in love with rational, kind people despite logistics that would soon separate us. I was drawn to those who were themselves distant, or whose patriarchal dominance and assault masqueraded as “kink.” The result was pain all around.
I held my quirks close to my chest as a type of sparkly armour. The tendency to prefer my own company as a child played out in my adult life as urban hermitage, silent retreats at spiritual centres, immersion in work and study, seeking solo experiences even while partnered. I tricked myself into thinking that the side of myself who craves alone time and dreams of a five-year stay in a Zen monastery is the only version I have to present to the world or contend with.
But when a caring though imperfect relationship ended earlier this year, I felt something crumble. Accepting a situation that wasn’t quite right no longer offered refuge, or a reason to run. And being alone with the safety of my quirks simply meant being alone. Perhaps that meant no more romance, at least for a while. Enter Tracking Giants, and my quest to find these Champion trees rather than a mate.
Of course, when you stop looking…
At the beginning of June, Jason bouldered his way into my life. We connected over a shared fondness for a purposefully difficult pastime involving walls, athletic chalk, and very durable plastic. We started texting. We went on a first date, then a second, and have been going on dates almost every day since.
My love is not a red, red rose; he is wildflowers and espresso. I’m generally happy, but tellingly I feel happier when he is around. When he’s not, there is a Jason-shaped absence beside me.
I have been welcoming Jason into my life while redefining my idea of what a supportive, passionate relationship feels like. As I’ve been learning to be a tree tracker, I have also been learning to love Jason, which means reconciling with my past and with sides of myself I’d rather not examine.
In the July 2018 issue of Outside magazine, Pam Houston wrote about finding love at age fifty-five. Long in love with her local landscape, she was tentatively applying that ardour to another human, being brave enough to face the consequences should she fall, and should she come in contact with a part of herself she had kept deeply buried. “I am learning to love a man the way I love a mountain,” she wrote, “and that requires learning to love myself the way I love a cliff.”
Though it’s not the first time I’ve fallen, being “busy falling in love” sounds as if I’m looping in affairs of the heart with my everyday tasks, and our culture’s obsession with productivity and consumption. Mate: check. But allowing myself to step forward and fall is a steadfast refusal of that attitude. Whereas before, I studiously made myself busy in order to avoid making myself vulnerable, I’m now willingly standing at the edge of the canyon.
Jason and I have had decades of building lives for ourselves, and we’re both very dedicated to our work and our routines. You might call us set in our ways; I prefer “immovable.” I recently said to him, “I think we’re being very careful with each other.” We’re cautious about stepping on each other’s toes, heedlessly crossing boundaries, treading on carefully constructed habits. It’s mutual respect, and it’s vital. In the interest of consciously melding our lives, we take care to look for the signs and not trespass on each other. And this idea of “not trespassing” was on my mind when I recently headed to Esquimalt on Vancouver Island to find the largest shore pine in BC.
The BC Big Tree registry indicates that this shore pine is on “private land—please respect private property and view from a distance.” I scoped out the site on Google Maps and seeing that it was an apartment building, felt that my trespassing wouldn’t be easily noticed. I headed to this older residential area early on an overcast Sunday morning, and eased my car into the parking lot behind the low-rise. I was attempting to whistle as I emerged from Trouble, carefully packing my bag with tree tape and identification books. Suspicious, moi?
I was whistling as much to fool others as to fool myself. Though I try to be a troublemaker and live beyond norms, I’m often most comfortable colouring between the lines. I was whistling myself into a good mood after a rough week—hormones and headwinds all the way. I’d lit out for Vancouver Island to visit my friends Karen and Guillaume and their infant Milo, and to re-balance myself by searching for these silent-to-a-fault trees.
No trees around the back; none around the sides. No, my quarry was right there in the front yard, and I all but ran to it. This shore pine (18 m high, 3.25 m circumference, and 15 m crown) was nominated as the largest in BC by Robert VanPelt in 1989, and verified by VanPelt in 1995.
The shore pine (the Pacific variety of Pinnus contorta, or lodgepole pine) is typically smaller than a lodgepole pine, which can grow up to 24 m in height. This tree has quite scaly, grooved bark. The needles are long and grow as twisted bundles of two, three, or five. Roberta Parish, in her Tree Book, rather unfairly describes the shore pine as “short, scrubby, crooked.” The one before me was stately and straight.
The National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Trees—Western Region notes that the shore pine has “oblique cones pointing backward, opening at maturity but remaining attached.” I had found the tree emblem for my shifting approach to romantic relationships.
The BC Big Tree registry likely must include a request to not intrude on private property, or at least to take care while doing so, but this tree is right at the edge of the property, beside the sidewalk. You can see it on Google Maps. The point, if there is one, is to respect boundaries more than signs or admonitions; to recognize when “no trespassing” is implicit if not requested.
A couple weeks ago, I dropped Jason to the airport. He was attending a weeklong workshop in California. When I pulled up at the US departures entrance, I saw a spot near the curb with a red sign above it. Veering toward it, I declared, “I’m going to park here, regardless of the sign. I do what I want!”
Jason calmly informed me, “That sign says you can park here, for the express purpose of what you’re doing: dropping me off. I know you want to stick it to the man at all times, but in this instance, they want you to park here.”
I sagged against the driver’s window, laughing. This guy has my number, clearly, which means I’m a goner.
Shore pine (Pacific variety of Pinnus contorta), Esquimalt, Vancouver Island, unceded territory of the Lekwungen (Songhees)