Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pine tree

Up here, on the north shore of Lake Superior, the realm of the pine tree begins. And like anything ubiquitous, it can be easy to overlook them. Pine trees will be the first thing to tell you you are in the north lands, and they will be the first thing you stop seeing once you're here.

But don't write them off. These are some serious trees.

We have pine trees down in the cities where I live too. Indeed, there is a huge one right in our front yard. Bigger than any of these northern pine, ours is shaggy, friendly, and domesticated. It has been trimmed and cut over the years for its health and to steer it away from the house, from electric lines, and from the sidewalk that it likes to lay its weary branches on in the heavy snows and rains. It is a giant English Sheepdog of a tree, shedding copiously in season, well fed (on our sewage line, no less) and groomed, one of the family. It is a far, far distant cousin to these wild pines of the north.

Likewise we have hardwood trees, both here and down south. These are clever trees, bursting into bloom as the sun comes out, unfolding their flat, sprawling leaves into the warm and long days of summer, and in the first hints of winter burning their leaves off and going into a deep, tight, long slumber.

None of that for these Lake Superior pines. No cozy domesticity, no clever devices for them. They have no strategy. They don't have a plan. Yes, some botanist could surely detail the vast tools of their dominion. But I'll have none of that because look at these trees. Grim, gentle, battered, and calm. They are growing out of rock on the quiet summer shore of Lake Superior, looking just the same as they will when it is 40 below zero and the whole lake is trying to blow them off the face of the earth. These are wild trees and heedless, not going anywhere, doing nothing different. These trees are scabrous, uneven, broken, stately, and elegant. They are straight and tall until you look closely at them and see they are full of scars and lichens, muscles and bends and careful, uneven progression. They curve and lean and give up and have never given up.

Let me go out there with them. They are wild but don't even know the meaning of the word skittish. They take no care or offense. Let me stand with them. It is the easiest weather of the year. The breeze is gentle. My spirit is calm. I stand, perfect in the air and the light. And standing, I can last three minutes.

Three minutes! These trees are here for forever! Do you know how long forever is? I cannot tell you. Ask these trees. They know.

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