From the very beginning of this project,we’ve been getting to know the trees on this land. We’ve identified and mapped different species. We’ve given affectionate names to some. And, we’ve especially gone to great efforts to build around  the hundreds-of-years-old Ponderosa pine tree that stands a breathtakingly tall  and a breathtakingly short distance from the edge of our new home.
“There is potency in the act of including this tree in the architecture of our home.”

“Ponderosa” means ponderous, or large.

Why build around it?
Because it has taken a lifetime for this unique individual to grow from a small seed, a tiny seedling, a young pine tree, to the majestic giant that it is today. Think of all of the different experiences that it has lived through….the Kootenay hailstorms, the sun baked August afternoons, the snowy-blowy mounded winter days, the mornings that farmer Heddle’s cows rubbed against it, the moonbright nights that the coyotes hunted nearby…..on all of these days and nights, it grew slow and straight in this southfacing sandy soil. It survived and it thrived.

We carefully poured post and pier footings for the deck around the tree.

So, why build around it?
Because I remember the day I learned , in an encounter with a different tall Ponderosa pine tree that the smell of vanilla is buried deep in the fissured crack of orangy bark illustrated with black lines. Try it. Right now.If you happen to live in the southern interior of BC and have one nearby. Run outside and stick your nose in the crack of the bark of a Ponderosa pine. Breathe in long and deep, and there it is…vanilla. 

Ponderosa pine trees have deep grooves in the bark

Again, why build around it?
Because I have warm memories of another deck that was built around another tree- a large cedar tree at a Quaker Meeting House . I remember loving the creaking sound of that tree lulling the contemplative circle of gathered Friends. I loved the close presence of nature alive in the sounds of the birds rustling, the squirrels racing and the branches dropping. I liked sitting by the crackling fire watching the tree sway in the opening of the deck and I liked how, over the years, the wielding of a chainsaw- to the deck, not the tree- was necessary. 

A healthy Ponderosa pine can live up to 500 years.

Why not just cut it down?
Because we treasure the power of the message that comes through this choice of working with nature. There is potency in the act of including this tree in the architecture of our home. We think it’s important to honor nature, to listen to and work with our surroundings, to embrace the life that is around us and to remember that we are all part of this circle, this mandala, of life.

This is during the construction phase. The roof of this outdoor room that circles the pine tree will be a living roof

As you can imagine, some folks thought we were crazy
Some folks said so.
“Cut that thing down. It’s too close to your house!”
“It’ll drop branches on the deck and you’ll have to clean them off.” ( I think that this is an inconvenience I can live with)
“It’ll get damaged by building so close to it. It’ll fall over and crush your house and anybody underneath it!” (now,this is a very concerning point)
We consulted with Gregoire Lamoureaux of Kootenay Permaculture Institute and the arborist at Carrie’s Tree Service.
We learned that there is are some important factors in this situation.This type of tree has a very long deep root system with a centre tap root (rather than a shallow spreading root system). This long root system helps it to drink from deep in the earth and also helps it to be extremely stable against strong forces. They call it “wind firm”.
This particular tree is healthy and we can be careful to “root prune” the smaller side roots when we’re digging at the base of it. Root pruning is just like proper branch pruning; make clean diagonal cuts at all ends. The tap root wasn’t disturbed as we worked around it.
We watered it frequently during the time of transition.
We’ll keep an eye on it’s health. Keeping an eye on it is an easy thing to do, with it’s presence, it’s beauty, the creaking sound it makes in the wind. And, especially we’ll stay alert for the faint scent of vanilla wafting invitingly through the air.

A Ponderosa Pine can grow up to 50 meters tall.


‎”When I die, she said, I’m coming back as a tree with deep roots & I’ll wave my leaves at the children every morning on their way to school & whisper tree songs at night in their dreams. Trees with deep roots know about the things children need.” -Brian Andreas, Deep Roots