Summer 1976. Near Leeds, England. She stood staring at the absurdly strange-looking tree, unable to believe it could possibly survive outside a fantasy world. She didn’t like breaking rules, but she wanted to trespass on the lawn that hosted this tree and touch it to make sure it was real. The tree was quite tall and shaped somewhat like a fir tree and, from a distance, seemed to have needles similar to that of a fir. But that was as far as the similarity went. The only tree she could think of that looked at all like this tree in front of her, was a Norfolk Island Pine.
This tree looked like it might have been around when the dinosaurs were top dog.
Her companion told her that the tree was a monkey puzzle tree. He added that it was thought to be impossible for a monkey to climb a Monkey Puzzle Tree, hence the name.
Summer 1987 or so. Berkley, California. She and her husband, strolled leisurely around the neighborhood where her husband’s cousin lived. Something about the houses or the streets or the lawns that looked more like gardens reminded her of England and being reminded of English gardens reminded of the long ago monkey puzzle tree. To her surprise, shortly after thinking about monkey puzzle trees, she saw a one in front of one of the houses in the neighborhood and pointed it out to her husband, repeating what her companion had said about the tree eleven years earlier.
July 9, 2008. Killarney, Republic of Ireland. Driving around the roundabout that led out of Killarney and onto the Ring of Kerry, she shouted, “A Monkey Puzzle Tree!” and pointed out the passenger’s side window. Everyone in the car got a good look at the tree, and she made a note to take a photo on the way back.
Later that day, after visiting waterfalls, a stone circle and a town called Sneem, the driver pulled the rental car into a parking lot and let her out so she could snap a few photos of the Monkey Puzzle Tree.
July 25 – August 15, 2008
Upon arriving back from her wonderful trip to Ireland, Dona turned on her Dell Dimension 8400 and began uploading her many photographs of the trip to the photo sharing site, Flickr. She’d kept a journal of her adventures and planned to transcribe the journal to a blog she started on the online blogging site, WordPress.com. She set up the blog and began to type.
Days later, after many cups of coffee, Dona came across the photograph of the monkey puzzle tree. Dona took another sip of coffee and opened up a new tab in her Firefox browser and, into the search field of the browser, typed
"monkey puzzle tree"
The first result on the Google search page was for the Wikipedia article about the Araucanria araucana, more commonly known as the monkey puzzle tree. After reading the article and saving it as a bookmark (Dona does not have a photographic memory, unlike some fictional characters), Dona wondered if it was possible to grow a monkey puzzle tree in her town of Bethesda. Through numerous searches, and cups of coffee, Dona discovered that where she lived in Maryland was in zone 5 for plant hardiness and that the monkey puzzle tree could grow in zone 5. She also read some bulletin boards after searching
"monkey puzzle tree" maryland
and discovered that there was a monkey puzzle tree in Gaithersburg, a town not far from Bethesda. She wondered where it was, but could find no clue even after many searches.
Dona needed to make a Christmas list and had lately been thinking about monkey puzzle trees. She wondered if one could purchase a monkey puzzle tree nearby so she typed
"monkey puzzle tree" bethesda
into the search field on her browser. She didn’t find any for sale at the local nurseries, but did discover that a 30 ft. monkey puzzle tree graced the lawn of someone in Bethesda. The listing gave the name of a couple, but no address. Dona’s first thought was to use low technology. She got out the white pages of the phone book, but the name of the owner of the property on which the monkey puzzle tree stood was not listed. Then she searched online, but still could not find the couple who owned the monkey puzzle tree.
More Months Later
Once again Dona thought about the Bethesda monkey puzzle tree and wondered if she could find more information by searching for the owner’s names separately. Somehow she was led to an Internet link that led her to believe the monkey puzzle tree was in the neighborhood across from her son and daughter’s high school. She opened Google Maps and tried to see if she could see the monkey puzzle tree from the satellite view. No luck; but then she’d never seen a birds’ eye view of a monkey puzzle tree. The next day she drove around the school neighborhood intently at the trees in people’s yards, trying to find the monkey puzzle tree, but had no luck except that the cops didn’t come and ask her what she was doing staring in people’s back yards.
Dona opened her RSS reader and noticed that Mali posted a blog post, listing things that made her smile that morning. One of the things was a cabbage tree and Mali conveniently provided a link to a photo of a cabbage tree for readers that had never heard of one. Dona followed the link and then began thinking about the monkey puzzle tree in Bethesda once again.
She searched Google, using various search terms including, again, each name of the owners of the tree. She found a few results that she’d not seen before. One was to an entry in an online guest book for a funeral home signed by one of the owners of the house that hosted the monkey puzzle tree, but it listed her city as Rockville** and her husband’s name was the short version of his full name. Another result was to a home that sold in 2007. Dona hadn’t thought that they might have moved — and give up ownership of a monkey puzzle tree? What were they thinking? A third (using the husband’s shortened name) was to another online guest book for a funeral home in which the husband mentioned being a neighbor of the deceased and mentioned a name of a street which was adjacent to the one the house that was sold.
Dona hopped in her black Camry and drove past the house. There, in the front yard, was a 30 foot tall monkey puzzle tree.
*with apologies to the late Stieg Larsson
**The house is technically in Rockville, but is listed as North Bethesda some places