The Three Sentries
I have three fir trees in the front yard that stand as graceful sentries. Like their military counterparts, they take charge of all property in view, maintain a military manner and observe everything that takes place within sight. They speak to no one except in the line of duty and quit their post only when properly relieved.
The three also chronicle the property as a home site as well as its geology. The seedlings sprouted around the same time the house was built. I've watched them grow their entire lives. Although the tree on the right seems shortest, it is actually the tallest of the three. In late 1990, record rainfall precipitated a landslide event affecting about 1500 feet of the South Fidalgo shoreline. Only the southwest corner of my property was affected. It slumped about 20 feet taking the little tree with it. The tree survived and is now roughly 40 feet tall. It is protected by a rip-rap sea wall added in 1999. As if grateful for their survival, the trees return the favor by helping to stabilize the bluff against erosion.
Two varieties of fir are indiginous to the yard, or more correctly, one kind of fir and one that is not a hemlock. I guess that requires explanation. The pair of handsome, darker trees on the left are Grand Firs (Abies grandis) and these are true firs. You can recognize a fir by its cones which point upwards:
The lighter, spindlier tree on the right is a Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Despite its common name, this tree is not a true fir. Pseudotsuga means "false hemlock." Its cones point downward:
Don't be mislead by the comparatively puny aspect of this young tree. Only the California Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) grows larger. The majority of homes in the United States are framed and sheathed with the lumber and plywood from this tree. The history of the Pacific Northwest is closely linked to the Douglas Fir and this includes the 5,000 years or more of Native American history.
This is the first season in my recollection the three sentries have borne cones. This makes it possible to confirm their identities. I have several firs in the back yard that are much older and larger forming a canopy. There was one old growth fir on the site when I purchased the property. It had to be removed since excavating for the foundation would have rendered the big tree unstable. In 1988 I counted 521 rings, give or take, which means it was a sapling when Columbus sailed from Spain. The trunk was nearly five feet in diameter at the base. I left as many of the big trees on the site as possible. After building the house, five subsequently died and had to be removed. This was probably due to regrading. Since the three sentries are windward to the house, they may also need to be removed in the future. For the time being, however, I will enjoy their company and the beauty they provide.