Friday, September 8, 2017

palm trees

When I first saw palm trees in California as a boy my mind was properly blown.

We were on our way to Tokyo with a long layover in Hawaii and their palm trees were even better. Thereafter I drew them all the time. I'd start with a pole then add the fronds. But some of the fronds need to point at you so those are drawn differently. It's the same thing as drawing a giant leaf. Their trunks are like a stack of broken frond stubs and that makes the pattern of their bark. Then I noticed real palm trees are rarely symmetrical as I drew them. Almost never straight up. Real palm trees are usually windblown. Severely windblown so their entire trunks are bent and often most their fronds are bent or pushed to one side from permanent wind. They're usually torn up. Poor things are tortured. 

My palm tree pictures were trite.


Actually, real palm trees on a beach are not usually so attractive. Nobody trims them. Dead fronds hanging all over the place. Insects take up in the stubs of old broken off fronds way up there. The shape of the palm stubs collects dirt and moisture. They're filthy. And they're not so easy or fun to climb in monkey mode as you might imagine. Shoes are no good. They're rough and they hurt and they're tough as nails. Palm trees look like a major pain in the butt to own. And the ones with coconuts drop them haphazardly and dangerously. They actually kill people.

But I still love them. 

Then one day in my early twenties a group of friends rented a house inside a gated community at Cancun. This is on the causeway before you get to all the hotels. There is a law in Mexico that all beaches are public, but nonetheless this home had its own private rock jetty and its own tiny private beach. Public it may be but what good is that when access to it is either by the ocean or through a gate with guards to private homes? The houses were arranged around a block with the center left undeveloped to jungle. A path was worn through the center. A coconut had fallen onto the path covered with dead leaves, the only spot in the jungle that allowed sunlight to hit the jungle floor. The coconut just sat there on the path amid dead leaves. The coconut began to grow. It sent roots spreading horizontally under the dead leaves and spears straight up that unfolded to incipient fronds. Such a perfect specimen I desperately wanted to bring it home but I was talked down from the idea as impractical. Apparently that would be impossible. What a bummer! Easier to just buy one. The baby coconut tree was perfect. I wanted that coconut. Incidentally, no insects. The whole place gets fumigated from a truck that drives around the whole block regularly. Completely smoked out. 

Incidentally, incidentally, that place had a very nice outdoor covered patio to service the whole place, supplied with a bartender who fixed the finest Cuba libre that I've ever tasted. I keep trying to duplicate that experience of perfection but I keep failing. It's discouraging. You need Mexican Coca Cola. And Mexican rum. And Mexican lime. And you need to be in Mexico, and that guy has to do it. Or it just doesn't work. I've tried everything.

Incidentally, incidentally, incidentally, this is also the time and the place where maybe I accidentally smoked a bowl of something that might possibly have have been a little bit deleterious. It could happen. I found myself on the tiny beach staring at a stone wall. I just read a popular novel about Romans. The same woman who wrote about Alexander. The sort of thing you read in a few hours. The stones were arranged into a parapet that separated the house from the tiny beach. The stones were white streaked with black. Or black streaked with white. Black and white patches and no grays, shadows blended with black, lava and something, about 50/50, but rough edges, not like a cow. Ugly at first and fascinating at last. I sat there and marveled at the extreme pattern imagining all its commercial applications. I visualized the pattern in a shower curtain, bed spread, carpets and draperies, countertops, tablecloth, sofa, dresses and umbrellas wall paper, and handbags and hats, shoes, socks, seat covers, patio covers, underwear and pillows. The possibilities were endless. I stared and allowed my mind free rein and it flew around all over the place while holding steady on this black and white pattern of rocks, studying every crack. I was hypnotizing myself just sitting there silently imagining and visualizing with the sound and the smell of the ocean just feet away, calm and alone and a million miles from reality then suddenly the pattern jerked in the shape of a giant iguana. A BIG one! Scared the heck out of me. It looked dangerous. The bastard was just sitting there too, on the wall the whole time camouflaged to perfection with the stone pattern as if his species evolved on that wall. Perfectly still until for some unknown reason it jerked several times giving away its sneaky existence, its legs stayed fixed while its whole body jerked back and forth. Maybe it got nervous being stared at like that. Maybe it cannot hold onto the wall without moving so long as I can sit there and stare at it without moving myself. 

And I worry about these palm trees in hurricanes.

The videos from the hurricane they've named Irma show palm tree fronds being ripped to shreds and the trees left barer than telephone poles. And I wonder what happens if all their fonds are ripped off. Won't they need at least one frond to photosynthesize a new one? Are all those trees going to die like the birds do? I feel strange holding such concern for trees that I don't own and don't even see around here where I live. They're not my concern but I still feel it. Mostly because I used to draw them habitually.

Turns out a lot of other people asked the same question. This site,, says that palm trees differ from other usual trees in that their growth relies on their growing tip, a crownshaft. So long as the tree has its growing tip then its roots can produce a new frond. But remove the tip and the tree dies.

This assuaged my palm tree related apprehension.

But there are different types of palms that respond differently to extreme stress and grow a bit differently. There are solitary types and clustering types. Some types produce clones trees from their roots. More good palm tree information at the link.


bagoh20 said...

I have lived with palm trees most of my life, and I have never seen one broken. They bend like an Olympic gymnast, but they will not break. Even the ancient ones in L.A. that seem impossibly tall and thin dance like they hear music in the worst of storms. They are always there the next day.

I have about a dozen of them at my new house in Vegas. The make an awful mess of a pool if you don't get them trimmed in June. I got this crew of guys to trim them: 4 guys, a dozen trees, 45 minutes total including cleaning up all the debris = $600. They climb these really high swaying trees with just a rope and a chainsaw, and in a cloud of dust and incredibly sharp spiny leaves flying everywhere they git-R-done, AND it was about 105 degrees. Then off to the next lazy dick's house. Some people earn their money hard and fast.

Question: Do you think they were White, Black, Asian, or Pacific Islander?

john said...

White Hispanics. Obviously.

john said...

OTOH, didn't a lot of Hawaiians move to Vegas in the early 90s?

Chip Ahoy said...

I think they were white boys like me, with monkey ears head bands and monkey tails sewn onto their pants climbing up the trees barefooted using a rope strap to around the tree to climb up and without chainsaws because those things are dangerous and boys shouldn't be allowed around them and using machetes instead, that aren't very sharp, and make the job a lot harder. And 105℉ doesn't mean nuth'n because they don't understand what those numbers mean and they're wearing short pants anyway.