Pinus ponderosa (Ponderosa Pine)
Mt. Lemmon, Coronado National Forest
June 12, 2010 at 10:55 AM
I: I feel very peaceful here and am wondering if it feels differently to you. You are surrounded by trees that, like you, were damaged by fire. What we would call corpses are scattered around you. Do you feel this? Can you describe what it is like?
I: Everything seems to be in a process of returning. You grew out of the soil; now your cones and needles fall down to the soil; bark litters the ground. All of these will become soil. Tell me about this.
I: What is it like to be in a fire? What is it like to withstand a fire?
I: What was it like, and how did it happen, the process of regaining peace here—if it is true that peace is what you feel?
I: You are old. How many fires have you seen?
I: What is your hope for the next hundred years?
This interview is part of Transcripts of Tree Talks: Southern Arizona, a dissertation study consisting of unstructured interviews with 8 Southern Arizona trees, conducted under the auspices of the university inside my mind.
The project hearkens back to the work of early ethnographers who interviewed and photographed elders of indigenous cultures in order to "preserve" their language and legacy while remaining complicit with the advance of cultural imperialism. Some will find the interviews light and innocent, while others will find them sinister: one more symptom of the dominant culture's drive to dominate, through warfare, science, or art.
This Ponderosa Pine is found close to Mile 20 of the Catalina Highway up Mt. Lemmon, home of the southernmost ski area of the United States. It grows on a small hill above the Palisades trail, which drops thousands of feet to the East Fork of Sabino Canyon. Elevation at the Palisades trailhead is approximately 8000 feet. Surrounding the tree are other Ponderosa Pines of varying ages and sizes, many quite large, as well as a number of smaller Arizona White Pines.
This area was badly burned by the 2003 Aspen Fire. Trees are spaced widely apart and dead and downed limbs and trees are present everywhere. The ground is carpeted with pine needles and the large, firm cones of the Ponderosa Pine, interspersed with the ferns that have re-colonized the burnt area.
About 120 feet tall and perhaps 200 years old, the tree is a “yellowbelly” with beautiful ruddy bark punctuated by dark jigsaw lines. The trunk smells strongly like vanilla. Its lower 20 feet are quite burned along one side, but it is alive and healthy, being naturally resistant to fire. Orange fungus is present on the burnt bark, along with dried tears of yellow sap.
A very windy day.