This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V21", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The feeling which moves us when we gaze upon a single tree which nature has planted and trained wholly without human interference, is akin to that lofty admiration which mountain heights, ocean depths, and the ceaseless stars produce. Simply as a monument of many years growth, and as in itself imposing, such a tree is memorable. The few distinguished trees of every species, are, however usually found in picturesque and rarely beautiful places, when the surroundings harmonize completely; where shadows lie, and ferns gather underneath; where clouds drift overhead, and winds pass with their breath of healing from far off crags; where other trees of royal line are themselves pages to the one unapproachable and majestic tree.
It has been my fortunate lot during wild rambles and long journeys in both the Coast Range and the Sierras, to find a few trees which seemed to me worthy of record. These measurements made often with a knotted handkerchief cannot be vouched for as mathematically exact to the fragment of an inch, but I have conscientiously endeavored to make them as accurate as possible under the circumstances.
In the mountainous portion of San Luis, Obispo County, and nearly at the head of a narrow little valley used as a stock range, and seldom or never visited except by vaqueros and sheep-herders, there stands a single White Oak tree, the tallest and most symmetrical I have ever seen. The first glimpse is obtained when coming around a spur of limestone rock, some two miles south, and from that time on it becomes each moment more conspicuous, rising-above sycamores, cedar, lesser oaks, and trees of every description. At this distance the trunk is hardly seen, but the magnificent crown rises in a spire, compact and perfect, some three times higher than it is thick, and beautifully rounded at the top. Approaching closer, until one by one the lesser trees and puny shrubs shrink aside, leaving a broad open space around the knoll on which this royal tree grows, we are •chiefly impressed by the wonderful proportion of trunk and head. The body of the tree is an arrowy column without a ridge or knot, scar or furrow, crook or blemish; the crown rises as the curves of an antique vase, each line and limb blending in harmony. I walked around the tree several times, but from no point of view was the slightest irregularity discoverable.
There was no broken limb or withered leaf, it was in the prime of its superb existence. I climbed a point of rock from which I could overlook it, and the perfectness of every outline was still the same. After I had feasted eye and fancy with this rare symmetry, I bethought me that in after years a measurement might be valuable, and these were the figures: Girth of trunk, five feet from the ground, thirty-four feet lacking one inch; distance to the lowest branches, a trifle over twenty feet. I had no way of obtaining the total height of the tree, but after observing its shadow carefully, and the comparative heights of other trees, I placed it at seventy-five feet.
In the northern portion of the Coast Range, and in the County of Trinity, there is a remarkable specimen of the Madrona tree. Trinity County is one of the most unfrequented parts of our State, and is full of wild scenery and strange geological formations. Its flora also, especially in the ferns and lilies is unique and but slightly studied. I took a mountain trail from the old mining town of Douglas City, one morning, and went westward, towards Humboldt County. After many hours of travel I found myself where several trails met, and hardly knew which one to take. Hearing footsteps, I waited, and soon a lean, gray-haired, buck-skinned man, who proved to be a pocket miner, came in sight. Of him, inquiring, I received this notable reply :
"Jest ye ride on up that crumlin' slate ridge, an' bime-bye ye'll see the crookedest tree thet ever grow'd. Then ye take the lef' hand road".
Half a mile further I came upon a seamed and broken rock, looming up like the prow of a petrified Great Eastern. Against its gray front a flattened, twisted, crawling and interlaced pattern of intense scarlet crowned by a mass of glossy leaves appeared. It was the "crookedest tree that ever growed," and it was a Madrona, which, starting at the base of the rock, had followed an open crevice and almost filled it with branches, then reaching the top had made a beautiful mass of foliage, and finally, to reveal its own patient and curious work, had split off the face of the rock, whose fragments were lying at the base. In point of size the tree was remarkable. Ordinarily the Madrona does not grow over one foot in diameter, and nine inches would be a fairer limit; but at one point, a few feet from the ground, this tree had found room to grow naturally, and there it was seven feet in girth. Some of the larger limbs were several feet wide and only a few inches thick; numberless times they had touched and grown together or past each other, or twined back, forming circles.
Some limbs had entirely lost their rich color, and others were dead, the struggle for life having evidently been intense, but the few which had reached the top safely had broadened out under the full southern exposure, and made, as I said, a very beautiful head. Having crumbled off the irksome surface of the rock, the tree was making efforts to sprout at the base, and a few green leaves were already visible. Doubtless long ere now the whole wall of rock, which appeared to be about twenty feet wide and thirty feet high, is completely covered with the foliage of this natural espalier tree.
Along the western edge of Shasta Co., and on the higher levels of the Sierras, is a belt of virgin forest of sugar pine, P. Lambertiana, mingled with Librocedrus decurrens and other stately species. Beside a narrow wagon road which winds through these fragrant woods, there stands a single large sugar pine, which is called the "Cannon Tree." It is not in itself at all remarkable, but thrust at right angles through its trunk, like a pencil through a bean pod, is a straight log some twenty-five feet long and two feet in diameter. The growing pine has closed completely around it, and only a slight scar is visible. The "cannon," blackened on the end by some former forest fire, is about ten feet from the ground. If there has been a union of two trunks above the log, it leaves little trace, and the simple mountaineers puzzle their heads in vain over the mystery. Not far from this place there stands a Douglas Spruce, which girths nine or eleven inches, a great size for that species. Lower down on the ridge we measured a Pinus Torreya, whose immense buttresses caught our attention. Girth, five feet from the ground, sixteen feet nearly. At the surface this would have been increased one-half at least.
The rosin which abounds in this tree was running down in yellow streams and forming little piles at the base. Perhaps when trees are numerous it may possess an economic value, and so utilize some of our barren lands.