Xu Dongming, a 30-year-old "full-time nanny" for the Guest-greeting Pine of Huangshan Mountain, shows how props protect the 1,000-year-old tree from snapping in the heavy snow on Dec 16. [Provided to China Daily]
As the onset of falling snow blankets Huangshan Mountain, one thing is weighing on Xu Dongming's mind - keeping the weight of the snow from harming the mountain's most famous tree.
"The Guest-greeting Pine to Huangshan Mountain is like the Great Wall to China," said Xu, one of a team who keeps an eye on the 1,000-year-old tree 24 hours a day. "Many of us (colleagues) and tourists owe a great respect to the tree."
The oft-painted and photographed tree stands at the end of a mountain path, its roots dug into crevices in the rock, branches hanging over the embankment.
As a "bodyguard" of probably the most famous tree in China, Xu has to ensure the pine won't topple or collapse in winter gusts or under the heavy snow, one of the biggest challenges the tree faces every year.
In fact, he spent two sleepless nights when the first snow of this year wrapped the mountain in a white shroud.
The 30-year-old, joined by 20 of his colleagues, started putting up 16 props to support the pine's major branches on Tuesday afternoon, and managed to finish before midnight as the snow began falling.
"The wind was blowing too hard," Xu said, which made it difficult to set up the props. "But we're glad we finished in time because that's about the best way to fight the snow."
The props, made of elastic plastic and rubber, help shoulder the weight of snow on the branches without hurting the tree, Xu explained. "They are much better than pure wood, iron rods or bamboo, which we used before."
Since getting the props in place, Xu and three other colleagues have been taking shifts 24 hours a day to check on the tree every 20 minutes.
"We have to ensure that the props are in the right positions and the tree stands OK in the strong wind and heavy snow," said Xu, wrapped down to his ankles in a cotton-padded overcoat to battle the -9 C weather on Wednesday.