Don Bauder 9:40 p.m., May 21
A single tree stands 50-75 feet high in our front yard like a giant pole. She is a Queen palm. She is so tall that her great green fronds fan out small against an idyllic blue sky. The occasional picture-perfect puff of white cloud backdrop shows her off even more.
When we first moved to this home and the Santa Ana winds whipped up with gusty force, I was frightened to watch the threatening sway of this Old Queen. Being so tall and top-heavy with foliage, she looked like an upside-down wrecking ball. There is no way she’s going to stay in the ground with that much torque working against her, I thought. I imagined the power of the punch she would deliver if let loose. After living here a dozen years, though, the rustle of her skirt calms me, as I have come to trust that this lady will likely be here longer than I, if we let her.
Beneath her leaved crown a long, grey, grass skirt hangs half way to the ground far below. Sometimes I walk out in the yard and find a single branch recently shed from this skirt. It is about as long as I am tall. Its shape unfolds like a Bird of Paradise from a giant dried flower arrangement, only devoid of color other than the beautiful subtlety of grays. The lacy remnants of delicate blooms springs forth from inside the sturdy stalk.
The base of the trunk is about four feet across. I bend down near it to inspect a dark pellet, a couple of inches in length. I recognize it from a science class I once took. We dissected these to find bones of rodents and small birds. I know that the neatly wrapped packets I find beneath our tree contain the inedible parts of dinners enjoyed by our owl friends that must live in or near the shaggy mass above. Our neighbors had the bushy beards of their trees trimmed up to the fan crowns last year and offered to send the trimmer over to our house.
“No thank you. There are birds and all kinds of things living in there,” I said. “We’re going natural.”
But today my husband reports that the fire inspector was in the neighborhood. “You are in a high danger area,” he said. “You will have to trim your big palm. It will go up like a torch if a fire comes through here.”
I know he is right. It’s the dry foliage that is the problem. A few years ago some young boys were fooling around down by my dad’s barn. Before he knew it, the neighbors were calling to ask if he had a fire going down there. Sure enough, the flames had already engulfed the dry palm skirts. While the fire department was in transit, he rushed down to try to at least save the barn. In the process one of the burning fronds flew down, whacking him in the head. Dad was so engrossed in the situation at hand that he “didn’t even know what hit him”. Three engines and seven fire fighters later, the inferno was tamed. It was then that my dad returned to the house only to discover that his forehead was severely burned. Not one for doctoring, he improvised by applying freshly skinned leaves of the Aloe Vera plant to his wound. His forehead and eyes swelled, but the fluid gradually crept down his face over a period of the next few weeks. A physician friend told him he would have significant scarring, but he lucked out.
“Why don’t we just have it cut down?” my husband says of our palm. “We’re just going to have to have it trimmed every year now, and that’s going to be expensive,” he reasons.
“Why don’t you look up when the owl babies leave the nest,” I say, insistent on at least letting The Queen live.