In addition to envisioning the return of the natural forest to the property, I am compelled to take a hand in the process. But it is an interesting balance between deciding what I want to have grow where, and listening to what the land wants its two-legged, nimble-fingered partner to do.
Yesterday I transplanted three small pine trees. I took them from the area beyond the wire fence which marks the yard of the cabin. Here a small gathering of trees and manzanita create a semi-circular curve out away from the fence. It looks like this space has been created by someone running a very strong mower over the area on an annual basis.
I found ten young pines, each one standing about 6 inches above ground level, with bushy branches in all directions. Numerous smaller volunteers surround them in small clusters. Since they can not all comfortably mature where they are, I decided to transplant one grouping of them out to the far corner of the field. My hope is that they will do better together as a young generation of siblings.
Out at the northeast corner of the land, near Grandmother Pine, I discovered a similarly stunted pine. It sits out toward the open field between a large manzanita and twin mid-aged pines. I asked their permission, and received their assurance that they will make underground connections with the new arrivals to help them join this family group.
All of that was the easy part. Equipped with water jugs, shovel, work gloves, towel, and wheel barrow, I headed out to dig my holes. I was excited when the first hole I made contained part of an old tree stump. Digging out those remains gave me a spacious place for a young tree, and left some good decaying nourishment for it.
When I returned to their present home, I found that this was going to require a lot more than shoveling up a sprout and its surrounding soil. These were established trees, stunted in size by being regularly cut down. They’d grown back stronger each time.
Water and the large shovel got the general outline cut, to allow me to move a whole ecosystem of tree, grasses, smaller tree sprouts and hefty root systems. I lifted the bulk of the soil system away in blocks, since it was held together by grass roots. Soon, I found myself with my forearms braced on the ground; the fingers of both hands teasing soil from around the taproot. Eight inches down, when the root was the circumference of my finger, I began trying to pull the tree out. That was an interesting wrestling match, which the tree easily won. My only choice was to get the large cutters and sever the taproot. I knew that there were plenty of ancillary roots, and a good length of taproot to help the tree survive, but I still didn’t like cutting it.
Once the tree was out, we made the trip across the land to the new site. I began with a tonic of water with a touch of molasses, to help develop the mycorrhizal network around the transplant. Lowering the tree’s root system into the hole, I was able to add a bit of the local soil back in. Then the block of rich dark soil, roots and grasses from the tree’s original area went back on top to fill the hole. The tree and it’s usual neighbors remain together to make new friends.
I was already quite tired, and decided that one more grouping was all I could do in the day. Being an adoption agent for older trees is much more difficult than sitting on the bench envisioning the return of the forest. The second round went more smoothly, but again there was the minor trauma of clipping the taproot.
It is no wonder that I dreamed about it last night. In the dream I was in a rare plant exhibit at a museum with high security restrictions. I accidentally broke off the top of a small cactus plant. In a panic, I broke the top apart and hid it. I kept trying to avoid being discovered, and trying all kinds of things to disguise the damage. I woke with a laugh, knowing that I will need to go out and talk with the tree today.
Last fall, we walked the boundaries of this land and made the promise to take care of it and all the living beings within this space. The relationships that are growing from that vow are amazing.
(New growth on the small cedar transplanted last fall).