Nature Meditation #5 – Leopold, “Pines”

“Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a shovel.” Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac – December.

Scientifically, pines are a type of tree most people call an evergreen. They don’t drop their leaves in fall. They don’t even have leaves. They have needles. But this entry isn’t about the science of pines.

Growing up in the wheat fields of northcentral Oklahoma, I didn’t know much about pine trees except the ones that grew in my backyard. We had two pine trees, the “big” pine and the “little” pine. Eventually, the big pine was removed. It’s limbs stretched over too much of the beautiful zoysia grass lawn that my father was so proud of, so it was removed. Then, there was just the “little” pine.

By the time I left home for college, it was a big pine, and by the time my parents left their home for a facility that offered more security for them both, it was a “really big” pine. Maybe it’s still there.

I remember the tree’s dusky smell. I remember how stickery the pine needles were under my bare feet. And I remember the joy of picking up pine cones.

As a kid, I didn’t quite understand the purpose of the cones, all I knew was that this pine tree MADE something! I knew from going to the peach orchard with Mom that trees made fruit, but this cone thing was something else entirely. Mom collected them and used them in floral arrangements.

And this tree? Was its sole purpose to make these cones? I couldn’t climb it like the maples, couldn’t sit high in its arms for hours and look down on the kingdom of my backyard. All I could do was cover the shed needles with an old quilt and move as close in to the trunk as I could, beneath the arching limbs of the tree, sheltered close to the ground.

I was as hidden as if I’d been high up in that maple tree. Who would look for me here? (Probably my mother, peering out from the living room window.) Under the boughs of the pine, I watched the squirrels, listened to the birds, and felt warm and safe.

Plant a pine, Leopold says. When I do that, I’m planting more than just one tree. I’m planting shelter for animals and birds. And I’m planting a source of food for many types of birds and animals including chipmunks, mice, squirrels, and deer, not to mention people who eat pine nuts from the cones!

But most important to me, I’m planting something that will grow into a place where someone will make memories. A place where someone will learn the value of a tree as a safe shelter for a budding imagination.

I hope you will plant a pine in 2012!

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