“To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.” Hellen Keller
When children reached grade six in Northwestern Ontario, at least when I, and at least two of my younger siblings, you went on a field trip to a recently clear-cut forest and planted pine seedlings. Typically they were red pines. We spent the day in pairs, one with a shovel to make a T-shaped hole in the earth. First the supporting line of the T is made. Then the top, keeping the shovel in the earth, levering it so the base of the T gapes open. The second person would then insert the seeding and when the shovel was removed the earth would close up on the roots of the inserted tree. Easy! Efficient too, years later I have driven past the area that my class had planted over 40 years ago and the trees are strong and tall.
In subsequent years the students’ ‘payment’ for their efforts at reforestation on behalf of the local pulp and paper mill, would be up to a dozen seedlings. My oldest sister planted hers at the lake front property. My youngest sister’s were planted in a line west of the family home to act as a wind break in winter and shade from the setting sun in summer.
A perfect choice because red pines are self pruning. Dead branches fall from the trunks, so a walk through a red pine forest is a journey through branchless, straight, gradually greying trunks on a thick carpet of long needles beneath a canopy of wind whispering branches, the air perfumed with a clean pitch smell. Perfect peace.
The needles grow in pairs. As kids we would carefully remove one and then insert the tip of the remaining needle into the void creating teardrop shapes that could be linked into long chains. Of course this resulted in competitions of who could create the longest.
We would also collect the barely opened cones and shake out the little seeds, removing the small, wing that enables them to whirl to the ground. We would chew on them, savouring the piney bite that we claimed was breath freshener, even though it was not the most delicious taste in the world. Squirrels did, so why not?!
Red pines bring to memory soft sighing of summer breezes, rough bark, sticky new cones and God’s delicate symmetry in old ones. The latter hold the memories of gold and silver spray paint, highlighting open scales, and placed in church floral arrangements for Advent and Christmas. Take a deep breath, draw the pine scented memory in, be still, rest in God.
19 I will plant in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it. Isaiah 41:19-20