Wednesday, February 12, 2014


With winter blowing its icy breath everywhere in the U.S., I was amazed when I spied a tiny pollen cone on a tall slash pine in my front yard last week—a sure sign that Spring is imminent. The appearance of this male cone signals that it's ready to release airborne pollen to pollinate the female cones and cause seeds to be made. Botanists once believed that pollination was random, but research has revealed that the female cone is shaped to aerodynamically direct pollen to it when the male cone releases the pollen grains into the air, and that the pine tree's pollination is another part of Nature's grand design.

I'm partial to pine trees, and when I bought my present home in New Iberia, Louisiana, I was happy to see the tall, cheerful trees dropping needles in my front yard. As an adolescent, I lived in the piney woods surrounding Franklinton, Louisiana and spent many summers at a camp called Peter Pan, hiking in a pine forest. The resinous scent of pine needles has always invigorated me, and I cling to these trees even when tree cutters canvas the neighborhood and try to convince me to cut down the two in my front yard every hurricane season. It's true that Hurricane Andrew toppled a venerable one that fell a foot away from my bedroom window, but I shudder when I think of engaging someone to fell the remaining two stately trees.

Pines have long lives and can reach 1000 years old. When I discovered this, I thought of Great Uncle Ed Greenlaw who owned a prized longleaf pine forest near Ramsey, Louisiana, back in the early 1900's when the lumbering industry was at its zenith. He decimated the entire forest to benefit the Greenlaw Lumber Company, then sold the operation and pioneered the commercial motor vehicle transportation industry, introducing trucks and tractors to the transportation world and sponsoring a movement recognized as the impetus toward a good highway system in Louisiana. He was often referred to as the "Father of Good Roads in Louisiana" and obviously respected good roads more than pine trees. Great Uncle Ed managed the Louisiana Motor Transportation Association, as well as edited the Louisiana Digest, forerunner of a journal the Police Jury Association now publishes. His decimation of an entire longleaf pine forest was forgiven in the name of commercial progress, and he moved to West End Boulevard in New Orleans, away from the scene of his logging operation.

I suppose that the pleasant, clean scent of pine trees didn't have the same effect on Great Uncle Ed as it does on me, nor was he a collector of cones or other souvenirs of his business enterprise. Today, only the remnants of a kiln remain on the property at Ramsey, and his former home is a bed and breakfast where I once spent the night. The present owner of the home quickly told me how my Great Uncle Ed cut down so many trees that a person could stand on the front porch and see the town of Covington ten miles away. I could tell she was a lover of pines from the irritated tone of her voice when she related this story.

During the 90's, when we were on vacation in California, my botanist friend Victoria picked up a giant sugar pine cone in the Sequoias that we brought back to Louisiana and placed on the hearth. A few years later, following a vacation at Lake Tahoe and inspired by the discovery of that cone, we veered off course in search of the ancient Bristlecone Forest near Westgard Pass in California on a road that led toward the forest. The road was guarded by a giant sequoia planted in honor of Teddy Roosevelt in 1913 and meandered through high desert for many miles. We entered the road after reading a danger sign that told us not to proceed without water. Nine miles out, the car heated up, and we turned back, suddenly remembering Episcopal Bishop Pike who died in the desert of Israel following a car breakdown. We've never returned to search for the world's oldest living pine trees.

Some pine tree trivia: alternative medicine enthusiasts make a tea by steeping green pine needles in boiling water, and others have used them as a component in a Bach flower remedy, but there's no scientific evidence to show that these concoctions derived from the majestic pine tree prevent or control diseases.

Meanwhile, I try to exonerate Great Uncle Ed by maintaining the two pine trees in my front yard. I like to listen to them rustling in the winter wind, but I hope that I'll be in residence on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee if another hurricane blows this way 'come Fall. Pine trunks do snap easily!
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