24" x 30"
San Bernardino Mountains, California, United States
I was delighted to find this cluster of Jeffrey Pines at the top of a hill while hiking in the San Bernardino Mountains. The evening sun was essential to this composition. It bathed the foreground and trunks in warm colors, which help convey the impression of the dry air. The low angle of the sun also created a dramatic contrast to the glowing trunks of the trees by casting dark shadows on the mountains behind.
When I tell people that these are Jeffrey Pines they look puzzled. If I had said they were Ponderosa Pines people would smile with recognition. Everyone knows the Ponderosa (Pinus Ponderosa), a name synonymous with Western ranches and even a TV show. And Ponderosas live in all of the Western States. In contrast, Jeffrey Pines (Pinus Jeffreyi) live almost exclusively in California.
And no one would be the wiser if I had told them they were Ponderosa Pines because the two look so much alike. Both have very long needles, up to 10 inches! And both have bark that is broken into large plates. In fact, the differences probably would not be detectable in a painting, especially one painted with palette knives. So why split hairs in naming a painting?
The answer goes back to the reason I paint trees. I enjoy the details that make each species unique. I picked up a pine cone from the dry litter under the biggest tree and held it in my hand. The scales on the cone were tipped with prickles but the prickles were curved in so that they didn’t hurt my hand. What a nice thing. How could you not love the Jeffrey? In the Ponderosa the prickles are curved out. You can’t squeeze a Ponderosa cone. If that isn’t enough to make you fall in love with the Jeffrey, press your nose against a furrow in the bark and you will smell a kind of pineapple or vanilla-like fragrance. Now after all that, how could I call it a Ponderosa?