Someone asked me to draw this for his daughters—a princess in a tree. I think he just meant a quick sketch, but I loved the idea so I went all out. I mean, a princess. In a tree.
I had a few different ideas for how to execute the concept. Princess in a tree looking scared, clinging to the trunk. Princess making herself a new crown out of leaves. Princess looking angry because firemen are trying to get her down from the tree. I settled on this one because this, THIS, is how I always feel when I am surrounded by trees. Just purely blissful.
Have you ever been to Muir Woods? It’s a sweet, wet forest of redwoods and eucalyptus. You look up, and there’s a breathing canopy like I imagine would be in the rainforest. The trees are always dark red with the damp, even on a dry day. Moss covers everything. Branches look fuzzy and bejeweled, all at once. Hot mushrooms pop out of broken trunks and rotting wooden guard rails. You don’t often see animals besides birds and squirrels, but sometimes at dusk you’ll see a deer, and once I saw an elk.
Being in Muir Woods is like being in a house, a very old, old house, where you know the ghosts are drifting but the chill feels good. You feel welcome. Even breathing feels different, with the cool soft eucalyptus in the air, and the ground sinks where you step. Can you imagine how it must have been, one hundred, two hundred years ago? The trees would have been only slightly smaller, and the gravel trails would not exist. Was it the Modoc Indians who lived in the area, or the Miwok? I can’t remember. I’m not up on my history. Do you think the trees remember?
They must remember. After all, they breathe you in, just as you breathe from them. Our cells go into their rings, as I hope theirs go into mine. I know their lushness does—I always leave Muir Woods feeling soft and clean; exhilarated, but ready for a nap; damp on the forehead and hair, and grateful for my pockets.
Yesterday, I went apple picking. The woman who answered our phone call said they were closing early, but we could try to catch them; the double-flanneled man who met us at the gate gave no indication of being in a hurry.
“Hi! Are you open for you-pick?” asked Dan.
“Yep,” said Double Flannel. He brought us big bags and directed us to the orchard.
The trees were wrinkled and curvy, and the fruit was delicious. The yellow was the sweetest, but the reds were the prettiest; they looked like clusters of bright red bubbles. No wonder Anne was so happy. She grinned like a lucky cat, but less devious. We picked, and walked.
When we weighed out, Anne, naturalist educator that she is, asked Double Flannel, “how old are these trees?” She thought they must be old because the bark was so wrinkled.
“These trees are about fifty-five years old. They were planted back in the mid-fifties,” said Double Flannel. He paused. “Some of ’em are around a hundred.” Another pause, fiddling with the scale. “I helped my dad plant ’em back in the fifties.”
Dan asked him who he sold to.
“Oh, Andronico’s,” was the answer. “Whole Foods. Berkeley Bowl. Few more places like that.” Dan grew up in Berkeley. A few moments later, he realized aloud that his family had shopped at Andronico’s, and so he had probably been eating the apples from this orchard since childhood. These trees had been feeding him his entire life.
Do they know that?
Do they recognize the rough hands and the double flannel when he comes to prop their branches up with wooden poles?
I’d ask if they are happy to give him the fruit, but that’s getting a little Shel Silverstein for me. But I do like to think it’s not a one-sided relationship.
Will they remember us next year, when we come to pick apples again when it starts to be fall?
And how about in the picture. Will that tree remember the princess?