Part 1. Ponderosa Pine
I emerge from the trees that border the campground, and there it is, a tall, half-grown Ponderosa Pine poised above the road bank in solitary splendor. Do trees have personality? The gesture says it all. Branches on the uphill side are in full sweep, reaching out and then curving upward, needles spread, a cone or two tucked into the bundles. In contrast, the downhill side of the tree bears marks of wind and weather, with lichen-covered dead branches slumped in dignified resignation. Halfway up the tree the normal growth pattern returns. Clusters of branches encircle the trunk, lifting limbs in respectful, dare I say joyful, salute?

The tree is asymmetrically balanced with all that weight on the left side. I can only imagine what strength the central trunk has developed to stand so straight in spite of the unequal load. I return to camp to dig out my art pack and stool. This tree requires a second look.

We are camped at Patterson Guard Station in the Warner Mountains of northeastern California. This is the 1970s, our early years of family camping, and this small campground is a perfect blend of open area surrounded by forest. The children can roam freely and be safe. Faucets supply good drinking water from the spring above camp. A trickle from that spring seeps down the hill, which encourages yellow monkey flower and red columbine to grow along the bank. Purple shooting star has sprung up in damp areas, along with a few white bog orchids. It’s an old fashioned camp with outhouse and unimproved camp sites. Even with the somewhat uneven ground and haphazard placement of table and fire pit, this is probably a popular destination for hunters in the fall. The old-time camp table at our site sports two narrow shelves, one above the other, that rise over the center of the table and extend its full length. Vertical supports at each end anchor the open shelves, which can be accessed from either side. Handy when cooking and serving, the shelves have fast become a catch-all and are a magnet for the local chipmunks.

The children come running to report wild strawberries. Can they be eaten? Don goes up the hill to identify the find. He promises they can have a taste as soon as he photographs the berries for his portfolio of wild edible plants. I take the opportunity to hoist my art pack and walk back to sketch the pine tree…to be continued.


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