Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Architecture of the Pitiusas Islands’ Pine

It is close to 40C today.  After a swim, I lie under the swaying clouds of a pine: my legs partially in sun but the body and head most decidedly under shade.  There is a clear blue sky, not a cloud; and a wind.  It’s a strong wind, often an echoing whistle like in the high Sierras… a bit eerie as it penetrates the space, just to your right!  The sound does not come from the bows of the trees; it is simply the noise of moving air:  sometimes the eerie flute sound; sometimes a great gusting.  Is it possible that it is The Mistral, a wind that screams down the Rhone valley and hits out across the Mediterranean? Perhaps it is just a major onshore breeze given land/sea temperature differences; or it could also be heat surges from the deep valleys?  Such is the life of a newcomer, forever observant, giving thought, and learning.

If I stood up my head would collide with the lower bows; if I climbed I would be to the top bows in two bounds (not that I bound!).  These are not tall trees.  They do not stand upright and mighty, but stagger in a tilt; the long limbs drooping, as if their weight were too heavy for the trunk; or the limbs too weak.  

The wood may actually be weak.  I have noticed that the wood used, as beams in local buildings, are worm eaten; have some rot; and split easily.  Maybe they only use the old trees?  I rarely see any standing that are dead.  Perhaps these ancient pines are not really strong, simply incredibly sturdy?

I lie gazing with curiosity. There are new 10-inch branching stems covered by the bright new 2-inch needles… amazing growth.  Now! in this heat it grows.  There are also the new bright lime green, tightly packed cones, amongst last year’s brown tightly packed cones; which are amongst another year’s cones which are just beginning to open; and finally they are all outnumbered by the old small dark brown fully blossomed cones.  I seldom see cones on the ground.  Only pine seeds, dark brown cone petals, and needles seem to fall.  

The bark is a contrast between an outer, almost dead, flaking grey crust; and a dusty, dry cinnamon like inner bark.

The wind has brought my full attention to these pines.  I am caught by their gentle movement; such a mesmerizing swaying softness.  It is not the floating of gauze; not the languishing flow of satin; but perhaps a silent billowing of silk. The fronds of soft stems and silky needles are grouped in large tufts, like floating cumulus clouds at the end of limbs.  They are not still; they are so silky soft, they are silent.

I can’t say I hear the trees growing, but they seem so shiny new they must be growing every instant.  And something else is happening:  I hear a ‘snap-crackle’! And wonder if there is a squirrel or some such creature breaking open the cones to eat pine nuts.  Several times over the day I take the time to squint up into the bows of various trees, standing as quiet as possible for some minutes.  The inner tree is quite bare though still loaded with old cones.  Many times I am startled by this crackle; at times it even sounds like a ripping … a Velcro rip, but quicker!  In an instant the sound is gone and I wonder… Did I really hear something?  Imagine a combination of a rip and crack.  A bird’s beak ripping into a cone?  That would be more continuous.  There is nothing in sight.  Absolutely nothing moves only those lovely silky green needles on the profuse new growth.  

After several hours I begin to think it must be the bark… the flaking of the outer layer that is crackling.  

Does it take this intense heat to curl back the old outer bark?  Is the tree growing so rapidly in this heat that it is stretching out of its old skin?  I can only hear it, not see it. Later I wonder if it is the cone… one of the older brown tightly packed cones of a few years back has perhaps started to gradually open… and then in the heat expanding so rapidly that it rips into a fully blown cone.  Have decided to take some time today to scout amongst these multi-phased prolific cones.  If any of them have suddenly changed, there should be some evidence. (I find what looks like some new curls in the outer bark.  Two days later, it is cooler… there are no ‘rips’ to be heard.)

The heat and air motion dries everything in moments.  If I hang washed cottons or linens on the line to dry, they are dried to stiffness within the half hour, even bath towels.  I swim; lie in the sun a bit, but the wet, cool suit dries so quickly, I start to prickle with heat before I am ready for another swim; soon the breathing gets a little labored.  I swim again.  “Very Hot!” the young Ibico man who does the gardening says.  “Si! mucho caliente” I respond, managing a word or two… never phrases:(.  He has been on the job since 7am; will stay until about 7pm.  I notice there is a mid morning and mid afternoon siesta… how else!  I don’t even contemplate going out to shop, or to enjoy a wander.  I have to wait!  I am either in the pool, or under the pines.  Unlike the fierce heat of the late springtime in India, I can still move from one spot to another, think, and read.  No complaints.

The architecture of the pine becomes clearer.  It is best realized while gazing upon it in contemplation on a hot day; or perhaps when one finds it next to a building, fitting into a space with the magnificence of a sculpture 

… the trunks so seldom straight; the limbs alarming long. Are there angles or just curves?  Such design: centuries of weathered sturdiness in the short trunks; the trunks don’t grow much in height, but do the looping limbs ever stop growing? In the hot months there is the addition of the silky, moist aliveness of the new needles and warrior-like armored cones. The heat creates a zest for life in these pines, not a shriveling into death.  Perhaps the cloud of new growth gets so heavy the limbs droop?  The rest of the Mediterranean islands also have pines but it was these islands, that the Romans named the Pitiusas  (profusion of pine):  Ancient trees, each beautiful in its unique shape, evoking the simple dignity of life.

The island’s current architects design their hillside masterpieces to be graced by the dignity and beauty of the island’s pine. It is interesting to note that the Rationalist Architects of the 1930’s came to these small Pitiusas Islands impassioned by the beauty of the lines of the organically ever-growing whitewashed farm houses … a main block, followed by other blocks in varying sizes as need demanded (more animals; more storage; more family).  The one contrasting element was a beautifully rounded outcropping for an oven. 

It remains an ancient tradition of neat functional design, and simplicity of line.  Even the church architecture was influenced.  They offer a unitary architectural structure.   These rural churches like the rural houses, lacking in any monumental aspect, were adapted to immediate need:   

a purity of form with dazzling white walls.  The architecture is distinct on the Pitiusas Islands*, like the profusion of pine.  Is there a connection?
Did the architectural beauty of the pine inspire the early builder:  The inherent purity of form in the ever emerging, shape evolving… pine?

*  The Pitiusas Islands are known today as the Balearic Islands.

**All my photos from Ibiza can also be viewed here:
Ibiza, Spain

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