This is a story about a weeping pine.
But it’s not just any story. It can’t be just any story, because this isn’t just any weeping pine.
This weeping pine is a special weeping pine. It’s one of a kind. It’s unique.
I bought it about four months ago. Actually, I bought it on March 17. In case you’re wondering why I remember the exact date, here’s why. It was my late partner’s birthday.
I had not planned to buy anything that day. I was just browsing the local nursery’s new arrival of plants, mainly West Coast conifers.
As I walked past one conifer, it looked like a stunning, younger version of a stately, older weeping pine right outside my kitchen door. “Gorgeous!” I thought. “But no need for another one.”
At about the same time, the manager walked past and saw me looking. Lingering. Pondering. Wondering.
“You don’t want to miss out on this one, Dr. Kendrick. It’s super special. We only have two, and they’ll go fast.”
I’ve known John since he was a youngster, when his dad owned the nursery, and I trust him just as implicitly as I trust his dad.
“Oh, yeah?” I teased. “What makes it so special?”
John started telling me all the details, reassuring me that it’s mature size would be perfect for the small area where he knew that I wanted a unique conifer.
I leaned in close to take a closer look at the tag, and as soon as I saw the name–Angel Falls–I knew that this tree was going home with me. It had to go home with me. Aside from being Allen’s birthday, I had written a blog post about him two months earlier, “Honoring an Angel.” But this story is not about Allen. This story is about a special weeping pine.
I had an immediate plan. This tree would become one more focal point in the garden that I had designed for Allen. But, again, this story is not about him. This story is about a special weeping pine.
I had just one concern. Even though the tree was small–no more than three feet tall–it was in a large tub, the size, perhaps, of a bushel basket. I knew that John would help load the tree into my Jeep, but could I manage to unload it alone?
I decided to figure out the logistics after I got the weeping pine home.
And figure it out I did. I stacked bags of mulch below my Jeep’s lowered tailgate. I slid the tubbed weeping pine onto the top bag, and, then I continued stepping it down onto the ground.
From that point forward, I knew that dragging it downhill to its intended destination would be as easy as stepping into the future.
And, for a second, I stepped off the sharp edge of now into the softened expanse of tomorrow. I stood there–looking beyond the spot where I would plant the weeping pine–gazing ahead into years, each stretching beyond the next, further and further and further into the memory of forever.
And there it stood, as majestic and as grand and as unique as I ever dreamt or hoped that it would become: days, months, seasons and years melting into fluid time.
Then, suddenly, a March wind blew me back to my present reality, and I pushed the tub right beside the spot where, tomorrow, I would dig the hole that would become forever to my Angel Falls weeping pine.
The next day, I did the early, chilly morning needful. I dug the hole. I measured it precisely, making certain that it was the perfect width and depth. I added loam to loosen and enrich the soil. And I had my water hose at the ready to give a good soaking once the weeping pine was in place. I wanted to make certain that I did everything within my power to get the weeping pine off to the right start.
Then I locked the unsheathed blade of my utility knife and cut the sides of the tub so that I could free the weeping pine and anchor it to its new earth home.
The heave-ho that I gave was far more than needed. I found myself standing there with the weeping pine mid-air, with little more than a 5-pound ball of clay securing the roots of its foundation, the roots of its future, the roots of my hopes.
Where was the balled and burlapped bundle that I had always seen before whenever I gave a heave-ho to lift a tree from its tub? Where were the tender, wondrous roots pushing through the burlap? Where were the reassuring signs of life?
As I stood there, decades of gardening whispered to me, telling me to take this one of a kind, unique weeping pine back to the nursery and get a refund. The root ball was wrong. All wrong.
But I had dug the hole. I had freed the weeping pine from its tub. And I really wanted that tree in that spot. Now. Forever.
I sighed a sigh of hope, and I planted it. Now it was mine. All the worry about its well-being. All the responsibility of taking care of it. Today. Tomorrow. Beyond. Mine. All mine.
Nonetheless, I was so convinced that my weeping pine was a loser that I stopped by the nursery the next day and told John all about my experience and my misgivings. He was more optimistic than I, but he agreed to put my name on the second weeping pine as a replacement, just in case.
When I drove back home, I stopped beside my weeping pine. It looked stunning with its twisting, green-needled, falling branches contrasted against the fresh mulch.
As I looked, I wondered whether my morning assessment had been too harsh. I wondered whether my morning conversation with John had been too direct. I wondered whether I had been too stern.
Confident that my assessment was correct and my conversation on target, I drove a little further up the hill and turned left into the driveway.
March melted slowly into April. Every day I visited my weeping pine. I was so proud. I wondered whether my neighbors admired it, too, as they drove past daily.
No one had said a word. Not one neighbor. Not one word. Finally, I asked one neighbor what he thought.
“You just planted it? You’re joking. I thought that it had been there all along.”
I thanked him for what I took to be a compliment. It was a compliment in my mind, because I like my garden plants to look as if they are growing in forever.
It was too early in the season for me to see new growth. But even so it was now my responsibility to water my weeping pine weekly during times with no rain or no snow. And that’s just what I did.
By mid-May, my world was a mountaintop of spring growth and spring blossoms. Bleeding hearts. Clematis. Daffodils. Dogwood. Peonies.
More important, all of my specimen evergreens were putting out new-growth candles, especially my white pine outside my kitchen door: candles six inches long, if not longer.
Sadly, my Angel Falls looked exactly as it looked the day that I planted it.
“Well,” I thought, “at least its needles are still green.”
I checked, every day, attentively. It became my routine.
By the start of June, something started happening: yellowing, browning needles appeared on the lowest branches of my weeping pine.
Armed with a cell-phone photo, I stopped at the nursery the next day to show John the death that I was living.
He grimaced. “Not good.”
“Yeah. I know. Maybe I should go ahead and replace it with the one you’re holding?”
“Hmmm. Not yet. Try cutting off the dead branches and wait two weeks.”
My weeping pine looked better with the dead branches removed. Actually, it looked rather healthy once again. I was cautiously hopeful.
One of my neighbors agreed, reminding me that my weeping pine was probably in shock just from being transplanted from the West Coast to here.
“But you know,” he said, “It’s gonna do what it’s gonna do. It will all work out the way it’s supposed to work out. That’s how life is.”
Two weeks later, more branches had died.
Armed with more photos, I went back to the nursery.
“Should I give it some fertilizer?”
“That would just stress it more. It’s probably a goner, but let’s wait a couple more weeks, just to see.”
I had never lost a tree before in all my years of gardening. I kept replaying everything that I had done since planting my weeping pine. I couldn’t help but wonder whether what was happening was my fault. What had I done wrong? What could I have done better?
When I weeded the garden where I had given my weeping pine a home, I talked to it, encouragingly and out loud, especially as I sadly cut off more and more branches.
When neighbors walked past, I lowered my voice, hoping that they would lower theirs. I didn’t want my weeping pine to hear them as they bluntly asked whether I had noticed that it was dead. Dead. That’s exactly what they said. I was shocked.
“I’m not so sure. It’s still trying. It’s a fighter. You’ll see.” I know how to put up a front when I need one.
My weeping pine kept fighting, all the while that its branches kept dying.
“How long do I hold on?” I pondered.
Two more weeks passed. My weeping pine was an embarrassment, to me and to neighbors who, by then, didn’t know what to say. Sometimes, saying nothing is the best thing to say.
I resolved to take one final photo, show it to John, and drive back home with the replacement weeping pine.
The next morning, when I got up close to my weeping pine, I witnessed a few short candles, no longer than an inch. Not many, but enough to make me believe that my weeping pine was alive, that it really was fighting. I zoomed in really close on those candles, determined to capture their bright green.
“Dr. Kendrick, you’re holding on to false hope. Let’s get that replacement loaded into your …”
“But look!” I took my fingers and stretched the image as far as John was certain that I had stretched my hopes. “Look at how green those candles are. See? Look. Right here.”
“All right. If you insist. Maybe give it another couple of weeks.”
Every day, I visited my weeping pine, witnessing more and more green candles of life in the midst of more and more brown needles of death.
A little more than a week after that, I was ecstatic when I made my daily visit and discovered that all the green candles all over my weeping pine had unfurled into short, stubby, vibrantly green needles. At this point, my weeping pine was certainly not much of a specimen. In fact, it was just a shadow of what it had been. But it was a livng witness to life’s fierce determination to keep on holding on, against all odds.
By then it was near the end of July. One morning, I stopped by the nursery just to check out their inventory.
John approached and inquired about my weeping pine.
I beamed as I shared the recent turn of events. Beam begets beam.
“Here’s the deal, John. Go ahead and sell the replacement pine that you’ve been holding for me.”
“I’m absolutely certain.”
“Okay. I will. One thing’s for sure. If your weeping pine doesn’t make it after all this, at least you have a story.”
“You bet,” I thought, as I walked away. “It’s a story of survival.”