Tag Archives: Bethesda

The Girl who Stalked a Tree*

Monkey puzzle tree in Ireland
Monkey Puzzle Tree in Ireland

Prologue

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.

Chapter 1
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.

Chapter 2
Months later

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.

Chapter 3
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.

Chapter 4
Today

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.

Jackpot!

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

Google Street View Clues

I’ve been waiting for Google Street View to arrive in our neighborhood for quite a while. It was close-by — in the business area of Bethesda, but it had not made it to our immediate neighborhood until very recently. I discovered it had when I tried to figure out where the neighbor who needed a tutorial in how to delete unwanted emails lived. I noticed that Pegman made the neighborhood streets turn blue when I lifted him off his little tower — the universal sign that we were now on street view.

When I told Dean about it we spent an hour or so trying to figure out when the Google street view camera came through the neighborhood. It was like a mystery. We first looked at our house, of course, and found some clues:

It was warm, but not hot outside because our bedroom window was open (but we had the air conditioning off and the windows open most of the summer, so this is not really a clue):

Window Clue
Window Clue

It was this past summer because our new neighbors’ cars were parked in front of their house:

Neighbor Car Clue
Neighbor Car Clue

It was a few weeks after the 4th of July because we found this flag, but no others (the local real estate agent puts flags in front of each home for the 4th of July):

Flag Clue
Flag Clue

It was early in the morning because of the way the sun was shining:

Sun Clue
Sun Clue

It was not a Friday because the Fish Guys were not at Bethesda Community Store:

No Fish Guys Clue
No Fish Guys Clue

It was not a regular weekday because the entrance at NIH was barricaded:

NIH Clue
NIH Clue

It was probably not a Sunday because this construction worker is getting ready to work on a house:

Construction Worker Clue
Construction Worker Clue

It was probably sometime in August. The leaves on the tulip poplars started to drop early this year, and I saw several yards with yellow tulip poplar leaves in them. I cannot tell if our house repairs were completed — the basement windows, with one blurry exception, are not visible in the photos and the back porch is too far away to tell if it had been repaired. The one big clue for me is the branch on our across-the-street neighbor’s curb — I remember seeing a fallen branch in the street, thinking that I should move it, getting distracted by something else, then seeing the neighbor had moved it. I asked her about it the next day at a neighborhood coffee get-together and she said she thought it came from her tree.

Branch Clue
Branch Clue

I checked my emails and found reference to the neighborhood coffee get-together. It took place on August 1st, 2009. So, I’m thinking now that the Google Street View camera car came through on Saturday August 1st.

Here is a bonus picture, although not a clue:

Chupacabra
Chupacabra

I’m lucky it’s just low water pressure

Turned on the shower this morning and I got a trickle of water and assumed Dean was showering or running the dishwasher. I felt sorry for myself and wondered why Dean would use water when I needed it.

Turns out he wasn’t doing anything with water. The weather was — there is a massive water main break a couple of miles from us — along a road I’ve often traveled. 18 cars are stranded, according to the news reports. My mom called this morning to say it was on national news. I can hear the helicopters — probably transporting people to and from the hospital up the street.

I think these people have it a little worse than I do.

Watermain Break on River Road