Itís not reaching goal but love that goes into it that counts

February 10, 2012 04:15 pm

In a pot beside my fireplace are four oversized cones from pine tree forests during George’s and my wanderings over the years.

Carting them home was always an exciting time that we shared. They are of varying sizes and types, one being a large cone from a Digger (Gray) pine tree, but my favorite has always been the almost foot-long Sugar Pine cone.

Its huge size in comparison with our Ponderosa (yellow) pine cone was so dramatic that I decided I wanted to grow such a tree.

George, always trying to please me, scoured the nursery stock sales books without success, and then one day we visited the Ryan’s Nursery and Feed lot right here in La Grande at 2805 N. Fir St.

How excited I was when John Ryan produced a potted tree, a lone Sugar Pine tree.

Paying the price, we carted the tree home with instructions for its planting and care, the admonition being for patience in seeing it grow to a mature size to produce the cones.

George did the hole digging on the hillside, the planting, the watering.

My heart’s desire became his choice of care, and we sat back to watch it grow and produce those huge pine cones.

One day, George came back to the house with his watering bucket un-emptied, his face drawn in disappointment.

Cows, not our own but given permission to graze our hillside, had destroyed our Sugar Pine cone tree.  How could we have been so naive not to have known that the young tender shoots were delectable fodder for the stock as it stood there unprotected.

Mr. Ryan was not happy with us when we appeared again at his nursery, for Sugar Pine tree starts were not easy to find. It was as though we had been careless or killed his tree on purpose. Finally, our twin inconsolable faces convinced him of our regret in losing "his" tree, so he hunted through his remaining tree shoots without much hope of finding a replacement.

Finally, he came up with a rather scraggily-looking start.  As he put the pot in the trunk of our car, his eyes were that of a stern schoolmaster as he sent us home as two of his errant students.

Still with hope of survival for the pitiful growth, we headed home.

George found a place closer to the house to plant this ugly duckling within protective wiring, tending it as he had the other. We watched it grow, although our hopes to see the huge pine cones were somewhat diminished.

What joy, though, when some greenery came with spring. Maybe there was hope after all.

Then came the forest fire of August 1973. When we toured the blackened earth, our fragile tree had been unable to withstand the fierceness of the fire.

There were no more Sugar Pine trees at Mr. Ryan’s nursery.

Disappointment set in as the desire of such a special tree went un-rewarded, but George never gave up the search.

One day, he came back from one of his trips hiking and mountain climbing with an especially pleased look on his face. Among his dust-covered hiking and climbing gear was a funny-looking start of a tree, barely alive.

I couldn’t believe that it was, indeed, another Sugar Pine tree beginning, so I didn’t feel as much excitement over the scraggily growth as the deep love for the man who was still trying to fill my desire to pick Sugar Pine cones of gigantic size from my own tree.

Looking back, I must have thought it would be like picking apples or pears, but my dreams have always been bigger than reality ---- and so easily attained, I thought.

The tree was planted, watered and cared-for, but in its stunted condition it did nothing but sit there, neither growing nor dying.

I believe in time we almost forgot about the tree except for George’s watering of it. Once in a while I would check it and find it a wee bit taller, but not much. I gave up the idea of collecting my own cones on the ground from beneath its green bows.

Surprisingly enough, it now stands approximately 25 feet tall and is looking fairly healthy. It just needed time to grow and develop.

I wish George and Mr. Ryan could see it now but they are both gone.

No, I haven’t found foot-long Sugar Pine cones among its branches and I know that I never will because of my age.

It isn’t that kind of a fairytale ending. It’s the idea of all that went into the presence of this particular tree for the sake of love that makes the ending happily acceptable.

It’s rather like my Sugar Maple tree that I will never make syrup of its sap because of its growing time needs, but George found and planted it at Edelweiss because I wanted it there.

Maybe it isn’t the attaining of a goal but the love that goes into the attempting to make it so.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all those who love.

P.S. I wrote this column while decorating for Christmas but anticipating the February printing. Cousin Tom Swart and I went up to look at the pine tree to judge its height to update my story and satisfy my curiosity.  And, there on the tips of some of the branches, were baby cones which I had never seen on the tree before.  Maybe we were looking at the beginnings of cones that would surprise and delight others in years to come.

I would certainly hope so, for the cones are like little Christmas presents from George. Or maybe little Valentines.


Veteran newspaperwoman Dorothy Swart Fleshman is a La Grande native. Reach her at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it