Photo: Lightning Scar on Ponderosa Pine Tree

From the files of Donald R. Kirk...

A Rare Tree
Part 1. Storm in the Night
An explosive blast of thunder jolts me awake. My wife sits up in bed. I can hear our two kids exclaiming in the tent pitched close beside our small travel trailer. We get up and go outside. I assure the children that all seems ok, but we will stay up for a while to watch for signs of fire. With that comment the boy and girl join us under the trailer awning.

Camped where an aspen grove meets a meadow surrounded by conifer forest, lightning strikes are a concern. Abruptly, we see a strike into the forested hillside near our camp. Fire seems certain, but rain starts to fall. A wind comes up. The drizzle grows to a downpour. Sheets of water blow across the meadow and under the awning. We retreat into the trailer.

Lightning strikes every few minutes. Blasts of thunder rattle the pans on the stove. We are nervous and excited. In our small RV we are relatively safe from a lightning strike. The sloping canyon walls, several hundred feet high, are less than 100 yards apart. No tall trees tower over the trailer. Besides, although it is still raining, the lightning and thunder have moved down the canyon. We go back to bed, I look at my watch. All this activity consumed only 45 minutes.

In the morning we get up to a cloudless, deep blue sky. A breeze stirs the aspen. Water cascades from the leaves. Liquid jewels sparkle on the meadow grass. We take our time with breakfast to let the meadow and surrounding forest dry out a bit.

Finally the grass is dry enough for us to enjoy an unhurried, downhill exploration of the canyon. Rain has made everything look fresh. Birds sing riotously. Chipmunks and ground squirrels scamper through the vegetation. Flowers bloom in profusion. An osprey soars high above. Over the south ridge of the canyon a coyote howls in broad daylight.

The trickle of water that runs through the meadow sinks into the ground at the lower end. The canyon floor becomes drier, sparsely covered with mules-ears, sagebrush, elderberry, sage, and scattered wildflowers. We walk slowly, scanning the stately ponderosa pine trees that dot the scene.

One tree, taller than the others, shows a three–inch wide scar from the crown to the ground. Pieces of fresh bark lay scattered about. Sap oozes from the cut on the tree. This is a lightning scar, so fresh the tree must have been struck during the thunderstorm last night…to be continued.

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