My husband and I found Doug at a Home Depot Arbor Day event during our first year in Washington State. Doug and his fellow twiglings were enveloped in plastic and laid out on a table en masse, free to all takers in celebration of the day. Though he didn’t have a name at that time, he was a Douglas Fir, and so - naturally - he became known as Doug before we even left the store.
We weren’t there that day for that purpose, so I spent the entire trip home Googling the care and feeding of your new baby fir. We had bitten off a lot more than we might be able to chew, but we were determined to make a go of it.
Doug’s first home was a 1’ high wicker basket on the balcony of our third-floor apartment. We nestled him in comfortably, with all of the good mulch and compost that the various sites had suggested, and made certain to keep him positioned in as much sunlight as he could get, here in the Pacific Northwest.
Time passes differently for a fir than for humanity. We didn’t need to transplant Doug until he was about three years old, and then it was only because – by chance – I happened across a plastic-lined, 3’ high wicker laundry hamper which seemed like a good step-up for him when repurposed as a planter.
Doug had grown only about 3” more from his original height of 12”, and whereas he initially had two “branches,” he now had six. He was growing, but not at an alarming rate; I was relieved about that, because I had fallen in love with little Doug.
He wiggled like a bobble-head toy in the hard rain (of which there is plenty here), almost too tiny for his branches to combat the huge drops… but still, he held strong, and though he grew a slight and inexplicable crook near the top of his crown, he was still a magnificent little fellow.
Then there was Christmastime: while those first years we only decorated his container – Doug was far too tiny and delicate to support anything more than tinsel – by the time Christmas arrived in the year we transplanted him, he had fluffed! Doug’s main trunk was now a solid and sturdy ¼” thick, with eight whole branches and a straight sprig at the top. What a beautiful, healthy little guy, and we carefully attached the tiniest colorful plastic bells to him, being careful not to damage his arms, and topped him with a homemade glittery star. He was was adorable.
Through the next few years, his growth continued slowly. When we eventually purchased our first new home several miles from the apartment, the move with Doug was harrowing: his container had become brittle due to age and exposure, and it crushed slightly when removing it from the car, damaging one of his limbs. Poor Doug! We bandaged him up with toothpicks and dental floss to save the limb, which worked… hallelujah!
What we didn’t have at our new home was any space to plant him. Formerly the home of a professional landscaper, our new lawn was already full-to-capacity with various exotic plants and trees, leaving no room to plant a new addition. Thus, for the first three years, Doug remained in his now-reinforced wicker laundry hamper.
As with all living things, he nonetheless continued to grow bigger and stronger each year. Slowly but noticeably, he packed on more branches, filling them with needles and a “pouf” of new growth at the end of each one, every spring. And then, one spring, his first tiny cone! We were over the moon at the discovery of this one little sign of Doug’s maturity from twig to treehood.
It began to gnaw at us that he didn’t belong in a stale planter. Doug was from a long line of titans of the forest, and he deserved his chance. Because we had no room for him to lay down roots at our home, we began to search around for better accommodations.
To our surprise and relief, it turned out that the US Forestry Service had a substation not 10 miles from our location, and as long as the tree was a native species like Doug, they would allow him to be planted at their office location.
Doug was going to live with the wardens of the forest - we were ecstatic!
It took some time for them to work out the logistics, so that it was not until weeks later, a sunny day in May, that a backhoe was finally brought in and put to use digging a suitable space for Doug to stand. He had the perfect spot, showcased right in front of the building for all to see.
Clean, beautiful, life-sustaining earth. Doug was back home with this mother now, and it showed. Within 2 years, he had risen to a height of four feet and had a near-uncountable number of branches, all fluffed out with short dark-green needles year-round, and exciting bursts of bright green ones at the end of each branch, every spring.
Every year on May 6th, the anniversary of his arrival there, we take a photo with him, showing with outstretched arms how his height changed over the previous year. Unfortunately, due to his years in the containers, they say he might not reach his full adult height for many years longer than normal. Hopefully he forgives us for that, if trees can forgive.
At 14 years old and over six feet tall, he has surpassed us in height. It is difficult to both get him in frame and to make out detail on our faces in photos, now. It makes me a little sentimental about the times we were able to put a sparkly star on top at Christmas, when he was just a Charlie-Brown-style twig on our apartment balcony. In reverence, the US Forestry Service never decorates trees, of course.
But they do allow plaques. For his birthday next year, we’re having a beautiful one custom made to celebrate 15 years of the joy it’s been, watching him grow. It’s not about us, though, so the only wording on the plaque will simply be: Doug.