The bottlebrush tree

Early fall south of San Francisco and the bottle brush trees burst out with their brilliant red fuzzy flowers.  Legions of bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators flock to them like so many bits of iron to magnets.

And here was I, a bit cooped up in my second floor condo, observing a few bottlebrush trees around the buildings, noting the build up of the hummer population, planning ways of getting a few nice photos of this familiar California tree that I once thought quite exotic.

Coming from sandy, rocky coastal area of New England with its deep winters and potent winter hurricanes known as Nor’easters, California took my senses by storm with its wild pallets of color in trees, gardens, rolling hills and craggy mountains.  Even its deserts — the Mojave with its Joshua Trees being the first one I encountered — are unique and colorful in their own timeframes.  It was here, while living in Santa Maria along the central coast from 1978 to 1981 that I seriously set to work on my bird carving hobby.  As it slowly moved into a living from a pastime, so did my understanding grow for the myriad connections between the birds I would observe and study for my work and the natural world.

The bottlebrush tree, native to Australia, forwarded my interest in keeping wild things well supplied with sources of sustenance because in my wanderings around home base there would be clouds of hummingbirds at their flowers, even more bees.  Unlike another cool tree I encountered in Hawaii, the autograph tree, bottlebrushes are not known as invasive trees that are destroying native peers.  Birds — of which Hawaii has a great many endangered species — eat the autograph tree’s pretty little red seeds from its neat star shaped flowers and spread them far and wide.  The autograph tree often grows high in ohia trees, sending air roots groundwards and even straight through its host, killing it slowly.

Nice to feed the birds, particularly endangered ones, bad to kill the trees the birds have long been accustomed to.  It is very hard to keep up with the score sheets in nature…

Leaves gathered beneath an autograph tree on Oahu.  The name comes from the fact that you can scratch words or elaborate drawings onto the top surface of the leaves.  The next layer is light in color. … The pot was given to me by my late Native American friend, Dolores Abeyta of Isleta Pueblo.

The bottlebrush has no dark side like that.

Earlier this week the bushes here were about at their zenith, a visual feast for the likes of me, a set-the-table kind of feast for the flying creatures.  A virtual friend was just becoming a friend-in-the-flesh as she was visiting me for the first time.  A fellow blogger from a couple of Facebook blogger communities, Barbara is a like-minded soul with a lively mind.  Another friend who spent many years in New Mexico.  Our visit — blessed  by the instantaneous acceptance of her by my two small, noisy dogs, Elf and Opus — we were deep in conversation when from below came the overwhelming decibels that are generated only by power garden tools, wielded by landscapers.

Eventually I made my way to the balcony door.  Horrifying is a mild word for the shock my system absorbed on seeing the red glories from every bottle brush tree wilting on the ground.  The man waving the trimmer high over his head to shave the top of the last tree off looked like a demon to me.  Barbara was right with me in chagrin:  “Think how much damage this does to the bees!” said she, who had just brought me a jar of honey from her own hives.

“And the hummers who are migrating,” noted I.  It is true that of late there had been more as-yet-unidentified hummer species at my feeder (and the bushes) than there were all summer.

My quick sketch of a bottlebrush flower.  Note:  The leaves don’t really flow like that.  Frieda Kahlo was simply standing behind me while I drew on an iPad Pro.

Keep in mind that for most of my life I’ve lived in houses that my family, or I, owned.  Nobody trimmed a flowering bush or tree when we didn’t want them to.  The concept of renting a place may relieve me of loads of work but here is the dark side.

We two environmentally minded ones, however, had to acknowledge that the condo HOA (homeowner association) does what it does for its own reasons, and the Mexican men wielding the noisy pruners did not deserve my ire.

What sort of dimwitted thinking puts small flowering trees in places that need the kind of thing easily kept round or square?

In the days since the tree trimming hummingbird numbers had gone down to nearly nothing at my feeder.

Which all has put me to thinking about the way in which a sense of contentment, or acceptance, or comfort or even just acquiescence builds up in me about the big changes in life.  Slowly, steadily.  How, often, once the appropriate feeling settles over my psyche like a comfortable bubble of fresh air, the tree pruners of life come along and reshape the entire experience.

I guess that like the bottlebrush trees it is my challenge to aim my creative energies towards new growth, even as the inevitable future pinching back of that effusion is bound to come.

I just hope that my efforts will feed metaphorical bees and hummingbirds before the noisy blades do their chopping.

All of this gives me the opportunity to heave a big sigh and get on with squirrel watching.  This fluffy tailed rodents leap from balcony to balcony in this condo complex, shoot up the corners of buildings to the rooftops, twirl themselves around railings.

On with the show, you bottlebrush tailed varmints!

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