“Lost in thought” is not the best way to experience a tree. This incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) rewards our full attention, if we stay mindful of our present experience of this tree. We can see the cinnamon-colored bark and the glossy, yellowish-green sprays of foliage. Our hands can feel the deeply furrowed, fibrous bark. We might even catch the turpentine scent of the leaves and the pencil-like smell of the wood. On a windy day, we may be able to distinguish the creaking of limbs amid the sounds of passing cars.
This handsome tree is far from its home in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains of the American West. To cope with conditions there, it has acquired some ingenious features. Its profusely branching root system makes it drought tolerant and wind resistant. The thick bark of a mature tree protects it against fire. In some years, it can produce up to 400,000 seeds per acre. And because soil quality, moisture, temperature, and sunlight vary so much on those mountainous slopes, the incense cedar has evolved a level of adaptability and hardiness that gives it an advantage over some other trees.
For all that, out in California and Oregon, this tree would be unremarkable — just one more incense cedar. Here in Decatur, though, this visitor certainly catches the eye and elicits our admiration.