Her nickname was 'Lacebark' and
she was a living mosaic, pieced together from
alabaster, ivory, amber and jade. You know the
type, with cheeks that put the glow of the moon
to shame. I'd never met anyone like her, and probably
never would have, had I not glanced through the
Personals in the back of The Int'l Tree Huggers
Arboreal Dish Seeks Connoisseur
Graceful, slender & long-legged, mother
of pearl complexion w/ startling short dark
hair, i. s. o. stable, sun-loving gardener who
believes good things come to those who wait.
Your place or mine? +584930
She was definitely not my type
- I'm not what you'd call stable - but she seemed
like a nice girl, so I gave her a call. Turns
out she'd had a bad time of it: one among many
in a huge family, sort of lost among the pines;
slow to develop physically and you know how tough
on a babe that can be; always kind of comely but
not so's you'd notice and for a long time nobody
did; a late bloomer professionally - turns out
she loved to act - but always passed over for
the choicer roles.
Part of the baggage, she says,
of being evergreen.
I told her I had some contacts
in the plant world, and suggested she send me
her picture. I didn't want to brag, but I knew
my way around this forest, and was certain I could
shake down a few trees. As sure as ten dimes will
buy you a dollar, the pix proved her good as her
word. Fact is, Lacebark seemed just a little too
good to be true.
I needed to see her in the flesh.
I finagled an invitation for tea. She lived in
what seemed like a Chinese temple garden; turns
out, it was a scale-size replica of her ancestors'
sacred home. Her relatives had lived outside Peking
for centuries before the telling events of 1831,
when a visiting Russian botanist named von Bunge
laid eyes on the aged, chalk-barked family and
told one too many friends.
Invitations from abroad flooded
in. Who could refuse? The family dispersed via
England with the help of a guy named Fortune (man,
was he ever on a roll). Lacebark's branch hit
these shores in 1879. They were the toast of the
town - exotic Asian émigrés were
big news those days - but here we are, several
generations later, and nobody knows her name.
Watching her lustrous dark needles,
her airy grace and her luminescent body (molded
by time into patterns and patches that changed
hues with the setting sun), I couldn't believe
she'd ever been ordinary. The dame was positively
surreal. Her beauty was easily equal to that of
the legendary, mahogany-skinned Maple - I knew
her as Paperbark - but more startling because
of the package she was wrapped in. Evergreen.
I wanted her. Badly. And I knew
I could never have her. Lacebark outclassed me
by a mile. I envied the landscape that would be
transformed by her presence; just by looking at
her, I could tell she'd only get more beautiful
I left her with the promise to tell her story
so that she might find what she longed for so
dearly: room to breathe and time to grow. Not
much, all told. As I drove away, my heart captured,
my reason under siege, I resolved to hold tight
to my promise.
Tight as bark on a tree.
Levine is National Public Radio's gardening
expert, The Doyenne Of Dirt.
This article is excerpted from her first book,
Plant This!, coming soon from Sasquatch