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12: Madrone

Dear Friend,

How are you getting along with Spring so far?

Have you had days that are sunny and warm enough to open up windows and exchange stale winter air for fresh spring breezes? Have you had time to be outside and notice the scents and sounds of Spring?


Spring green scent - reminds me of the first freshly mown grass and a poem that my Dad often recited at this time of year,


“Spring has sprung, the grass has riz,

I wonder where the birdies is?”  


He also recited this poem,


“Spider, spider, on the wall,

ain’t you got no sense at all?

Can’t you see it’s freshly plastered?

Get off the wall, you silly spider!”


Why wouldn’t those two poems stick in my head, far surpassing my ability to follow along while he explained something like the master equation in thermodynamics? Though I do barely recall a mnemonic, ‘Students that Study Physics Require Good Teachers,’ or something like that. (The actual mnemonic is: Good Physicists Have Studied Under Very Fine Teachers’)… the square of fancy letters only made me wonder, ‘Who gets to decide the standards for lasting mnemonics?’ 

It seems more important that a mnemonic should primarily make sense to the student since the teacher already knows everything.


In music notation, the well-known mnemonic for treble clef lines is: Every Good Boy Does Fine which never made as much sense to me as my own, Eagles Go Bald Doing Flips.


I’m straying from the topic, you’re right. Sorry.


The topic of my letter this week is a tree, Arbutus menziesii, the Pacific Madrone, (aka: Madroo, madroña, madroño, Madroa, Bearberry, Strawberry tree, Refrigerator tree). The bark of this tree reminds me of manzanita or Toyon because it is sometimes smooth and sometimes peeling. But Madrone trees have larger leaves, fleshier berries and grow to be statelier than Manzanita or Toyon.


A large, mature Madrone tree with its twisted, strangely shaped limbs growing up and through the oak and pine forest canopy was, (along with bay and eucalyptus trees), the basis for the Hooley Tree, which originated in my imagination and became a native of the Dark Green Forest in the Land of Beyond. Read more about Beyond the Weakened Thread.

Unlike my imagined Hooley trees, (with or without leaves, found in crowded forests or by themselves in meadows with roots that search for streams to sip), the Madrone prefers to take root in forest clearings and thrives in well-drained soil. Pacific Madrone grows in the sunniest part of forests from Southern California, into the Western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Foothills and up through British Columbia, Canada. Some trees are known to be hundreds of years old. Don’t you think it would be so neat to hear their stories?


Madrone is evergreen and ever-changing. Branches follow the sun to the extent that they will fall off the tree to make room for more sunlight potential. Bark curls and sheds and regrows. Depending on the amount of rainfall, a Madrone tree will flower, white, between March and May and share a bounty of deep, orange-red berries between November and March. You might be glad to know that the berries of the Madrone are non-toxic. But eat them at a cautious pace, apparently, they can cause tummy cramps, (actually, so can too much of anything, right)?


One mature Pacific Madrone produces lots of fruit and a plentiful supply of seeds every year. The seeds are dropped as berries drop but since berries are eaten by birds and animals, seeds are also carried far and wide (because everyone poops).


And the way that the tree handles fire is amazing. An established Madrone tree will survive a forest wildfire better than the pines. And Madrone seeds dropped prior to the fire will sprout, quickly bringing new life to the damaged land, giving returning animals tender greens to eat.


At the same time, the tree is susceptible to many diseases (rot, cankers and fungi). And because of this, birds find weakened, rotting limbs easy to burrow into, creating a perfect place to shelter and nest. The fruit of the Madrone ripens during the colder months, also making a Madrone’s forest an attractive place for birds and animals to stay for winter.


Every leaf of the Madrone tree falls in its own time, new leaves sprout as old leaves fall and the tree is never naked. The bark of the Madrone tree changes throughout the year, curling up and shedding, leaving smooth red-brown limbs in Spring.

Nature balances, constantly shifting and changing; living things rarely stay the same, survivors seem to be the most adaptable beings. And Madrone tree-sprouts pop up in the forest clearing, some are eaten, some die and return to the soil, and some thrive to seek out and find that sunlight, the warmth and golden nourishment that calls them to reach and grow up, up, somehow knowing when it has reached up high enough.


Enjoy this Video by Frank Bevans: Madrone in Spring with Original Music ‘High Enough’ by Lee Hoffman, (my very own sister of whom I am quite proud and to whom I send my love and gratitude for sharing this beautiful piano noodle).

If you are interested in finding out more about Lee Hoffman, please read about her here:


And if you’d like to read more about Pacific Madrone, I found this lovely, informative write up at Native Foods Nursery.


Thank you for being here to read Tracks by the Post! Contact us if you have mnemonics you’d like to discuss or any tales of Thermodynamics, climbing a Madrone, soothing a tummy ache (from eating too many Madrone berries) with a yummy Madrone bark medicinal tea, silly Dad rhymes… we’d love to hear from you! 


And as you make your way through the next week, please know that we are keeping you in our Thanksgivings. We appreciate knowing that you are there!


Gently Be,

Leslie and Frank


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