Lacebark

Her

nickname was ‘Lacebark’

Pinus bungeana
by Ketzel

Levine

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

Magazine:

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

with time.

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.

Ketzel

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

Books

 


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