Manzanita translates from Spanish into “little apple." But the Manzanita tree is only loosely related to the apple, and also the madrone tree. It’s originally native to California, and generally grows between the inland mountain ranges and the ocean, from British Columbia south into Mexico. Manzanita is a common name for many species of the genus Arctostaphylos.
There are almost 100 varieties of Manzanita. It grows slowly in inhospitable areas. One variety struggles to become a twisted, two-foot-tall tree on bitterly windswept coastal cliffs. Another variety is a prickly long-armed, short trunked 20-foot-tall hanger-on to the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada.
The larger Manzanita species are strikingly beautiful, with branches and bark streaked with vivid red, deep brown, and bleached white colors, and occasional white flowers. Some species sport reflective leaves, that appeared luminescent in the moonlight. Some Manzanitas have berries, whose tea is a folk remedy for poison ivy. Merchants often use its curving branches as mobiles or in displays, or sell it for bird cage perches.
The Manzanita often grows only ¼ inch in trunk diameter per year. That meant that a 50-year-old tree might have a one-foot-wide trunk. Its wood is hard and dense and durable, and when sanded enough, yields a brilliant red grain. It dulls chain saws, and if burned, warps fireplace grates.
Decades ago, my buddies and I retrieved large, dead manzanitas from above 3000 feet elevation in the California Sierra Nevada Mountains, an hour south of Yosemite National Park. We sawed, sandblasted, and shaped those into flowing tree-stump table bases for redwood burl slabs. We rejoiced to find a 1 or 2 foot wide trunk. We rarely cut down a live manzanita, and never a redwood.
Rather than create finely designed furniture with routed edges and fluted legs, we offered barely-finished tables, which we alleged preserved the natural character of the wood, and I even misused the term “baroque” to excuse the unfinished character of our “furniture.”
We were young and strong, and had rope and chains, and a custom-modified ‘59 Chevy pick-up with an Oldsmobile race-car 394 engine. But that trunk was so huge that we broke every rope trying to tow it up the slope. When we fastened the chain and floored that Oldsmobile engine, the tree trembled and began to move, but it was so huge, its weight started to pull the truck down the cliff, instead of the truck pulling the tree up to the road. Finally, we gave up.
A Manzanita in Chico, north of Sacramento, is currently a Official California Large Tree with a ten-foot circumference, but the tree we left behind was probably just as large.
I left the Manzanita business behind a year or two later. It cost me $25 to prepare a Manzanita table base, for which I received $25. I bought a bigger truck and tried to make it up on volume, but failed.
But I kept two of the larger Manzanita table bases for myself. After my marriage, one of those stumps had to live outdoors. For further details on how that transpired, please see the scene in “How Harry met Sally,” regarding the fate of Jess’ wagon wheel table.
Yet after enduring about eighty feet of rain over 20 years that would have disintegrated lesser wood, that particular stump, although it is weathered and dark now, still props up a fine redwood burl in my backyard.
After a hiatus of over 1 1/2 years, Meteor Blades has revived his excellent series. As MB explained, this weekly diary is a "round-up with excerpts and links... of the hard work so many Kossacks put into bringing matters of environmental concern to the community... I'll be starting out with some commentary of my own on an issue related to the environment, a word I take in its broadest meaning."
"Green Diary Rescue" will be posted every Saturday at 1:00 pm Pacific Time on the Daily Kos front page. Be sure to recommend and comment in the diary.