All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; — From Gerard Manley Hopkins Pied Beauty

Thanksgiving week. Gratitudes sing in the winds and on the rivers and from the beaks of kingfishers like praise poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, who also wrote this splendid line: “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame.”

This is a story of praise and gratitude for two favorite ponderosa pines dwelling within a nearby forest hugging the lava flows–the Grandmother Tree and the Witches’ Broom Tree. (Note– I am dubbing both trees as she and her for this story. Technically, ponderosas are monecious –each tree bearing male and female cones.)

The Grandmother Tree– amber-barked, wide-plated, and bodacious– rises lofty and columnar in compelling symmetry. She’s a wonder, and several centuries-old. I often lean against her, put my cheek on her puzzle bark, and spread my arms in a wide hug. When sun warms her fissured bark, I press my nose into etched cracks and inhale a swirl of vanilla, butterscotch, and rum. Far above me, her first branches are too high to swing up upon and ascend. Each branch droops in a concave sway. Pencil-length needles bunched in threes spray from twigs. Combed breezes hum the ponderosa tune of sighs.

Sometimes a raven perches high on her mast. Sometimes a coyote–the color of ash, dust, and storm–rubs against the bark before joining brethren in a circling game around the manzanita–or so I imagine from tracks and signs.

Praise be to the Grandmother Tree. She is kiss of kinship, elder of eternal, muse of morning. Wild Witness.

My friend Emily meets the Grandmother Tree

The Witches’ Broom Tree? She bears a gnarled claw of a branch that sweeps the needled ground. I can gently push and make the entire branch sway. How does she brace herself day after day to hold up the phenomenally weighty whorl?

Where the Grandmother Tree is symmetrical, Witches’ Broom is off-kilter. She’s forever holding this tangled, twisted, snaking contorted mass on her west-facing side. And yet? The tree continues to grow and grow. Witches’ Broom extends her green needles to photosynthesize. She exhales oxygen, captures and stores carbon in her trunk, limbs, and roots extending below ground, wrapping around lava, drinking water, and sending messages on the mycorrhizal network. The dead and living branches entwine in a dance of continual nurture, decay, and desire.

The origin of the now massive broom is western dwarf mistletoe, a native species adept at parasitizing ponderosas. The mistletoe story is the stuff of the miraculous– sticky seeds shooting 35 feet through the air propelled by an ingenious water pressure-regulated force within a ripening berry (sustenance for birds). Some seeds land on birds and animals, and others slide down pine needles after rains to cement to the twigs where at last the seeds can sprout in stem tissues. Over time, the mistletoe grows and the host tree tissue swells in response, eventually forming the telltale witches’ brooms. The bigger the brooms, the more small mammals and birds flock to their safe shelters for nesting, warmth, and survival.

Praise be to mistletoe and all the lovers and would-be lovers kissing below a mistletoe on a mantel over the holidays. These are plants yielding a flourish of life.

Praise be to the Witches’ Broom Tree. She is haven of hawk, twister of twigs, beckoner of beauty. Wild Witness.

Two trees. Two ways of gratitude. On this Thanksgiving, may we celebrate our differences and find the commonality of kindness, of kinship, and humility. Praise be…

Witches Broom Tree.

Wishing all a Thanksgiving of gratitude. For related blogs, read: The Owl and the Mistletoe, The Key to a Long Life, and Ode to Wildlife Snags.

Personally, I am feeling wingswept, headfirst diving joy and gratitude for the belted kingfisher. My book Halcyon Journey: In Search of the Belted Kingfisher just earned a National Outdoor Book Award. I’m thankful to my publisher Oregon State University Press, and to so many who made the journey possible.