My Dandy-Lion Pine Tree

Angel Oak – Johns Island, South Carolina

Just outside Charleston, S.C., you’ll come across a mystical tree called the Angel Oak. It’s a massive growth with dozens of meandering branches, some almost 200 feet long, others big enough to stand on. The Angel Oak has survived for centuries despite hurricanes and ever-encroaching urban development. It’s named after the settlers of a nearby plantation but you’d swear it has more to do with a supernatural being. When you stand within the calm and quiet of the Angel Oak’s wing-like branches, you can feel the embrace of a higher power.  You might as well be in church.

I have a similar tree in my front pasture, here in Colorado.  It’s a singular, lonely, rather sad-looking pine, about seven feet tall, standing sentry beside a swale running through the property.  My pine has very few branches, and on those, very little growth.  I could accurately describe the profile of this tree as a Tootsie Pop, or perhaps one of those ball-and-stick trees you see on architectural renderings.  I prefer a more organic comparison instead.  My tree reminds me of a dandelion, only with a very sturdy stem.  I’m tempted to puff up and blow on his modest ball of pine needles, but he looks so feeble I’m afraid they’ll actually take flight.

My pine tree is as cryptic as the Angel Oak is mystical.  There’s so much I can’t explain about him.  He was standing out there fifteen years ago when we moved to this property.  For all I know he was out there fifteen hundred years ago.  Despite our high-desert drought, winter blizzards, gusty winds, and other fill-in-the-blank weather events, my pine tree stands resolutely and takes it all without bending.  Never seems to grow, wither, or even lose those few pine needles.  In fact, he seems to be waiting for something – or maybe someone.  It’s a day-in-day-out mystery.

A tree, a horse, and an endless forest beyond

Five hundred yards to the east of my lone pine, we have a dense forest of trees that goes on for miles.  These pines stand so close together it’s a wonder they get enough sunlight to grow.  These tall timbers strike me as an army, standing silently at attention, ready to march forward with the given command.  Perhaps my pine is their evergreen general, ready to declare “CHARGE!!!” against some unseen foe to the west.

I don’t have to turn the clock back fifteen hundred years to come up with a logical explanation for my solitary tree.  Maybe just two hundred years ago, when there would already be no pasture, no horses, and not much of anything in any direction.  Settlers here and there at best, or pioneers in search of the promised land.  Perhaps one of these travelers lost a child at too young of an age.  Perhaps a tree was planted in memory of that child.  An angel-like pine carrying on in the sometimes harshest of conditions.

If I had any measure of courage, I’d get up in the wee hours of the night – no guiding light except for the inky blanket of stars overhead – and slowly, silently approach my pine tree.  In those bewitching hours, with the howls of coyotes in the distance and the soft rustle of grass beneath my feet, I might witness a presence from beyond.  Perhaps a subtle glow surrounding his branches, suggesting an endless lifeforce within his roots.  Or even better, the nightgown-clad ghost of a little girl sitting against his trunk, bare knees pulled to her chest.

I know my little tree is no Angel Oak.  In a forest of Ponderosa and Douglas Fir, my pine would be first choice for a Charlie Brown Christmas.  Yet there he is, steadfast and strong, the king of the jungle pasture, the unchallenged ruler of his domain.  He must have the heart of a lion and a confident aura to match.  I hope someday he’ll reveal his purpose, but in the meantime one thing seems to be certain.  My dandy-lion pine will still be standing when I am not.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Crushed Rock

Checked the tires lately? No, no, no – not the air pressure – the treads. Take a good look the next time you grab the car keys. Besides pebbles in the grooves or nicks in the rubber, your tires might sport a bright swipe of yellow on the sidewall. That, my friends, is the calling card of the local police, tracking your parking habits.  You could say you’re a “marked man”.  But sadly – at least for me – the time has come for that chalk to go back to just being rock.

The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sits in Cincinnati, with a jurisdiction of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.  Recently, a disgruntled Michiganite, possessor of fifteen parking tickets in three years (all issued by the same enforcement officer – creepy), decided she’d had enough and filed suit.  Just this week, the Sixth decided yes, in fact; chalking tires is unconstitutional.  By definition, chalking is somehow “a search of personal property”.  By ruling of the Sixth, that search is considered unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.  Whoa.  All because of a little chalk?

I’m trying to decide if “trivial” or “ludicrous” is the better word for this little story (see news article and twelve-page ruling here).  Clearly, I don’t understand the fuss.  Is chalking an invasion of our personal space?  Are we channeling our inner little kid and crying, “don’t touch my stuff”?  Have we arrived at the Land of Ridiculousness, where issuing a parking citation requires a search warrant?

In my Mayberry world, chalking tires is kind of charming.  It’s a mark of a small town.  Perhaps the council didn’t like the look of parking meters.  Perhaps they couldn’t afford them.  Whatever the reason, they released parking enforcement by foot (or bicycle), to cruise up and down the blocks “swiping tires”.  Two hours later, those marks sometimes become parking citations.

College campuses are common ground for chalking tires, so the mixed opinions of students on this week’s ruling came as a surprise.  Some worry new technology (camera shots?  microchips?) will be more intrusive.  Others are simply glad parking enforcement will be hands-off.  Still others will miss the opportunity of “clever” ways to beat the system (a. Spray tires with a non-stick coating.  b. Cover tires completely with chalk.  c. Take tires with you after you park.)

I feel bad for chalk factories.  Parking enforcement was a significant, high-profile use of their product, and now that’s been taken away.  A substance of little more than calcium carbonate just lost some major press.  The rest of chalk’s uses – by comparison – are downright banal.

White Cliffs of Dover, England

When was the last time you encountered chalk?  Probably been awhile.  Unless you’re a teacher at the blackboard, a tailor marking clothes, a gymnast, rock-climber, weightlifter, or cuing up a game of pool, it’s safe to say you haven’t used chalk lately.  Unless you’ve sailed in front of the White Cliffs of Dover, you probably haven’t even seen chalk lately.

How about chalk memories?  My earliest comes from the playground of my elementary school.  Before the days of painted lines, girls would chalk out hopscotch squares on the asphalt, doing their skips as they collected items from the squares (we boys were too cool for hopscotch).  My favorite chalk memory comes from college, when my engineering professor laid out equations on the blackboard, then turned to talk to the class.  As he spoke, he’d subconsciously hold the chalk aside his nose.  By the end of the lecture his face was fairly covered in chalk dust.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I took a trip to Charleston, SC, and to nearby Folly Beach.  The (now defunct) Morris Island lighthouse stands several hundred yards off the coast.  A mile-long asphalt trail takes you from the parking lot to the beach, as close as you can get to the lighthouse.  That trail is the photo below.  Hundreds of pictures and sayings; bold, colorful sidewalk art.  You literally walk the chalk.

The next time I get a parking ticket (and there will be a next time), I’ll be tempted to check my tires.  No longer.  Instead, I’ll just chalk it up to days-gone-by, when marking tires was simply a good intention, not a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

What a world.