Sunday, December 02, 2012

In praise of big pines

Longtime readers of Sand Creek Almanac probably know that my land has many white pines ranging in age from seedlings to old growth. This recent post shows a nice view of part of the pine forest. The old growth pines were a big part of our decision to buy this land in 1994. I still enjoy the voice of the wind as it whispers through the high boughs.

In the 1890's, at the height of the pine logging boom in Minnesota, this land was the site of a logging railroad siding, most likely with some structures, and possibly a logging camp. While the logging companies managed to do a remarkably thorough job in removing the old growth pines and permanently altering the landscape, loggers tended to leave a few big pines at camp and operational sites. A 1939 aerial photo of this land shows a dramatically cleared landscape, but a few large white pines are clearly visible. I have often wondered how long those pines had been standing before the logging era, and how old the largest pines are today.

A few weeks ago, during deer hunting season, Vinny wanted me to come out and see a large white pine he had found while scouting for deer sign. The pine is at the southern border of our 40 acres, and an old strand of barbed wire still meanders among the trees, some of which have completely grown around it. I do not make it to this part of the property as often as I should.


The sky was overcast, not good lighting for a photo, especially one taken with an iPhone, but if you look closely you can see my 6'2 son up in the branches of this massive tree. I knew there were giants here, and I had probably seen this one, but only that day did I realize this was probably the largest. It is still a picture of health, with a full crown and thick growth of soft green needles.

Over Thanksgiving weekend I borrowed a flexible tape measure from work. I had found a formula online for estimating the age of a white pine based on its diameter. The circumference of this tree measured a full 11 feet, which gives it a diameter of 42 inches. Multiply this by the "growth factor" of 5 for this species, and you get...

210 years.

Wow. I knew this tree, and several others were old, but I had never quite grasped the idea that this tree began its life around the year 1800, 58 years before Minnesota became a state, 90 years before the logging railroad came through, roughly 170 years before I was born.

I have a great respect for these elders, who have stood for generations, bearing quiet witness to the changes our civilization has brought upon the land.

8 comments:

webb said...

literally gasped and have tears in my eyes at the thought of a tree that old. Please continue to take good care of her. What a wonderful gift and huge responsibility!

Deb said...

It is the things beyond my control I worry about the most: climate change, new pests, and wind storms. A huge storm 15 miles south of here did ncredible damage in July 2011. In the years I have been here, I have witnessed the loss of a few larges pines and spruces, and I have mourned each one.

Pablo said...

That's a beauty. I have a few big oaks on my property that somehow survived the clearing by the cattle ranchers of long ago. I cherish them.

Floridacracker said...

Wow! How special and rare.
Your pines are much more "branchy" than ours.
A southern pine is usually devoid of any lower branches.
What a great climbing tree.

Muffy's Marks said...

You are so lucky to have it grace your property.

Caroline said...

The Adirondack forest is the home of huge white pines as well, I grew up with a huge one outside my bedroom window. The long needles are so soft and gentle feeling compared to the Ponderosa pines here in the Black Hills.

Deb said...

One thing I just found out about white pines is their dependence on fire or other events that expose mineral soil, not the organic humus. They need open spaces, and that barren soil that other plants don't readily colonize. That explains how so many white pines started growing around the pond when it was excavated, and even the part of the land that was a gravel pit in the 1930's.

Jayne said...

Wow! That is just so cool Deb. Just imagine all that tree has seen and been through. If only it could talk...