Pine trees are all different.
Pines growing on the rocky outcroppings around Lake Superior are often stunted, crooked, and twisted into unnatural shapes. They perch on ledges, balance precariously on top of boulders, or cling desperately to cliffs, parallel to the earth after part of the rock beneath them gives way and crashes into the lake. Their roots, bare to the elements, finger their way into cracks, pulling minerals from the rock and water from the shallow pools in small indentations. These trees have to endure the cold, long winters, northern winds, and the frigid spray of crashing waves which form icicles on their needles and branches.
They are survivors. They are the watchmen of the lake. They are the old ones.
On the beaches, pine trees thrive in the sandy soil. They carpet the ground in a blanket of needles in burnt oranges, dark reds and golden yellows which release a chemical into the soil that hinders growth in other trees. The forest consists only of a carpet and canopy of needles with straight, uniformly sized trunks in between and crisp, blue water in the background. In the sand, pines grow straight and tall, their limbs jutting out at right angles in whatever arrangement that suits them.
I have never seen a symmetrical pine tree.
White pine once grew from one end of Michigan to the other, covering the landscape in old growth boreal forest. Logging over the past few hundred years has changed that…for better or worse who can say? After pine trees are cut, other species grow back in their place: oak, maple, poplar, beech–all of those beautiful trees which change color and lose their leaves in the autumn.
Yet the remnants of those majestic pines still remain. Eagles often make nests in their upper-most branches. Crows use them as watching posts.
These trees are the protectors of the forest; they tower over the other trees and become lightening rods in thunderstorms, often meeting their fate when a bolt of electricity splits their trunk.
There comes a time when even the hardiest of trees must let go.
All along the shoreline are trees that have given in to the elements. They lie on their sides, roots exposed. Pine trees have no tap root; their roots twist and turn and creep and crawl, crossing back over each other, looking for every drop of water, every bit of nutrient near the surface. They are shallow and extend in all directions in a tangled web so when the tree falls over a gnarled, woven tapestry arises.
Every exposed root bed of a pine tree I have ever seen has a face; some have many. They are the wizards of the tree. They keep it safe from harm, and when the time has come for the tree to die, they rise up and watch over it, keeping vigil over the grave where the sleeping tree lies.
Pine trees are all different.
Yet, they are also the same. They all do their best to stand tall, be majestic, and protect who is around them, being strong when the storm comes. They may not live in perfect conditions, but find a way to survive, defending their home if necessary. They are susceptible to their surroundings and cannot control their environment–the wind, the rain, the sun–but they do what they can with what they receive, and thrive where they are planted.
So can we.