The eastern white pine was the most common tree in Northern Minnesota. It was logged heavily starting in the 1850’s through about 1910, by which time almost every last tree was gone. White pine was excellent building material, and at the height of the industrial revolution it was in high demand. For awhile it barely lingered on in the state. Now it is becoming more common again.
The eastern white pine is a majestic tree. There was a row of them, serving as a windbreak, stretched between the road and our driveway. I loved watching the whorls of branches swaying in a breeze. Often I played under these trees my imagination running wild. Sometimes I would lie down underneath these giants, the old orange needles were a soft bed. I can’t recall most of what I imagined there but I remember my heart soared looking up through those branches and pretty green needles.
On the west side of the windbreak was a big, rectangular grassy area that we used for our ball field. Summer afternoons, we played a family game of baseball – between the first two white pines close to the driveway was home plate. For football and soccer that same space was the goal. This area wasn’t just for ball playing though. It was the spot to play when we were very little. It was a battlefield for medieval knights, an African savannah, and the town of Nottingham. In the morning shadow of the white pines, we played on full hay wagons covered in tarps. It was also the site of many water fights.
I would often sit under the white pine that stood next to our driveway, leaning up against its large trunk. I sat there to think, daydream, or just completely be still and enjoy nature. I closed my eyes and felt the strength of the tree streaming into my being. I smelled the sweet, sticky sap clinging to the tree and the beautiful, tangy, refreshing scent of the needles. Listened to the chorus of robins, song sparrows, wrens, and finches sing each with a different tune. And I would listen to the wind rustling the branches. I enjoyed the smell of the grass and dirt. Picking up a cluster of pine needles or pine cones, I rolled it around in my palm, noting its texture and feel. Needles long and smooth, dark green, they tickled my hand sending a delightful shiver down my back. Pine cones large and mature, brown with white globs of gooey sap, these were not smooth but rough. They pricked my hand close to being painful and yet wonderful at the same time. Sometimes I started to fall asleep as nature appealed to my senses, the wind and birds singing a sweet lullaby. I spent many hours beneath that eastern white pine tree, leaning my head on its trunk.