The gnarled old pear tree was struggling to survive, hanging onto the edge of a dried embankment above a little dirt road when my family moved there over 40 years ago. It was small, not much taller than my dad, but already old, a twisted thing eking out a life on its own in the hard earth of a hot, dry Southern Humboldt hillside. Something in its solitary and determined struggle to survive was compelling to me, and it has always resonated with me.
After years of weathering, the crumbled soil beneath it gave out and it slid down onto the road. I found it there one day, still standing amongst the rubble of its small slide and looking a little disheveled. But it was OK. I dug a new hole and planted it across the road from its old perch in a more secure spot with the same view. I carried water to it regularly through the summer until it was able to continue on its own. That was over 25 years ago.
The other night I stopped by to say hi to it out beneath the stars. It was good to see the old tree under the night sky and share with it the awesome splendor of the Milky Way. I thought of all the nights the pear tree has watched the stars and planets traverse the sky. Other than a few clouds along the horizon, the sky was a glittering star field. Jupiter shone above the tree as the brightest point. Across the Milky Way from Jupiter glowed Saturn. I watched them cross the sky for a couple hours before tiring, so different from the patience of the tree; from its perspective, I showed up, connected briefly, took some photographs and zipped away again.
What’s a couple hours when you’ve stood watch for decades?
Some of the visible galactic points of interest that are reasonably identifiable passing over the old pear tree as Earth spins beneath them. Humboldt County, California.
It’s interesting to think how the life of this stunted old pear tree and mine have become entwined, and it feels good to think that replanting it all that time ago gave it so many more years of life. I suppose I was its little angel when I came along, and for its part it has always given me a good feeling.
An old, stunted pear tree abides in its nightly vigil beneath the Milky Way. The tree lives in Southern Humboldt County, California, but the far ridge line is in Mendocino County.
The tree is still small but it’s healthy. There must be a lot of rings packed in that dense little trunk. I’m glad our paths have crossed.
To keep abreast of David Wilson’s most current photography or peer into its past, visit or contact him at his website mindscapefx.com or follow him on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx .