My 3-inch Holiday Tree

On a recent visit to the newly renovated, hyper-green, and absolutely marvelous California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, I strolled into the museum store and bought a tiny tree in a plastic mailing tube. The tree sat on my rental car dashboard as I visited friends and family throughout California and Oregon, and then traveled in a shoulder bag on a Southwest Airlines flight back to Maynard, Massachusetts.

Now my tree resides on a tabletop under a grow light with a few dozen orchids, where it is misted and praised daily. (The snow shot was merely for publicity — no trees were harmed in the making of this blog.)My three-inch holiday tree is a Sequoiadendron giganteum seedling. This bristly green baby is a giant sequoia in its initial wee stages of becoming a totally-hunking-awesome-millenia-old-whoaaaa-dude!!-tree. Members of the redwood family, giant sequoias and their botanical cousins (Coast Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, and Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides) are superlative trees: the largest, tallest, longest lived trees in the world.

Yet these giants, and the old growth forests they create, have been decimated: only 4% of original coastal redwood habitat remains. These are the trees that inspired the 90-year-old Save the Redwoods league, and the two-year tree sitting of Julia Butterfly Hill in the giant redwood tree she called "Luna".

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies giant sequoias as threatened and vulnerable. This puts them in the same category as cheetahs, dingoes, most species of albatross, the humpback whales. As I fondly — and rather protectively - gaze at my tiny tree, the term "vulnerable" hits me in a way I haven't felt before.

Because for this displaced Northern California gal, my sequoia seedling represents a tiny piece of the cathedral-like forests and dramatic rocky shorelines of the Pacific Northwest that permeate my soul and make my heart sing. These are the lands where my True Love lives and makes his home (he, too, has to get on planes to be with me). So my tree exemplifies much of what is most precious to me, and thus, in the most need of protection.

In my past lives, after rejecting a holiday model that resulted in hundreds of discarded trees piled next to trash cans in my local neighborhoods, I tried to find a workable holiday tree solution. I experimented with living Christmas trees — which, being conifers that needed a certain type of soil and climatological regime, eventually ended up being planted in someone else's backyard. Next I tried L.L. Bean balsam tabletop trees: fir branches artfully arranged in a tree-like shape, complete with pine cones and a red bow. Not bad, but even better when I was able to go into the Sierra mountains and collect my own fir branches.

Beginning in 2006, as my life downsized and I moved into an Airstream, I chose a packable, artificial tree that fit in a corner and was just the right size for a miniature collection of ornaments.

This year, however, with the awe-inspiring, coincidental advent of President-Elect Obama, climate change, and True Love in my life, I'm thinking BIG. As in: Hope. Longevity. Majesty. Species conservation. Making a difference. Saving our beloved planet.

Over the next few centuries, if I — and my descendents — take excellent care of my seedling, it should grow several hundred feet and live around 2000-3000 years. Transplanted back to its native lands, it will provide critical habitat for hundreds of other furry, feathery, and fern-y creatures. My tree is a legacy, my Christmas-Eid-Kwanza-Hanukkah-Solstice gift back to our world. --Jeanine Pfeiffer
Image: Sequoiadendron giganteum seedling. Courtesy Jeanine Pfeiffer
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