Tuesday, September 6, 2011

White Pine

     Another blog entry that doesn't seem to fit with canoe fishing. And eastern white pines don't seem to do much more than provide two by fours and background on the horizon when you're out on a Minnesota lake. They sure are easy to spot. Tall with a spreading crown. This is another entry I started a while ago then got caught up in the Learning Curve madness. Consider it another form of Spring cleaning.
     How a white pine would fit in a fishing blog hadn't entered my head when I picked up the pen. Yup, I still pick up the pen. Sketch out the entry before hunting, pecking and filling it out with the keyboard. But somehow I figured it would. My brain doesn't work on its own but seems a conduit for words and ideas from somewhere else. Exactly where else, I don't know. Back when still working I'd walk into dozens of businesses each day. Most anything could be running through my head as I entered. Having no mature filtering mechanism at the time, the words would come tumbling out unmolested. Like I was a spectator. So there I'd be, saying something stupid and praying inside other words would follow to bail me out. Inevitably something appropriate would pop out and change the stupid to something merely idiotic. Almost like that was the intention from the start. No lawsuit for me.
     So, white pine. That's what's on my mind today. On the west edge of our land soar, in a midwestern sense soar, two mature whites. Fifty inches in diameter at chest height. No idea how tall. The biggest one in Minnesota, over in Itasca State Park, is a hundred fifteen feet tall. Some are known to grow higher. Call ours at least a foot more than real tall. The larger is ramrod straight. Root structure starting above ground and digging into the sandy soil like a hand. They look like the real deal as far as big trees go in Minnesota.
     The other is a micro smaller, with a huge side branch two stories up. Four years ago the branch cracked at the trunk and its tip sagged to the ground. The remaining joint was a splintered mess. A half dozen times I visited and pondered what to do. In my mind's eye I could clearly see myself atop an extension ladder chainsawing the limb off slick as a whistle. The pine'd pat me on the back and tell me what a swell feller I was.
     Inevitably reality would pay a visit as I stood there pondering and the immense size of the limb would hit home. Three, three and half feet in diameter. No matter how much I shortened it from the tip inward she'd still be a half ton when the time came to cut 'er loose. Your guess is as good as mine as to which way it'd fall. Mine usually had me planted on the under side. Ignorance may be bliss for most people but I'd always walk away knowing the tree was on its own.
     Sometime last winter the limb fell. The resulting damage was no worse than had I hacked away. Procrastination is the mother of the inevitable. Still there remains this immense, ragged tear in the side of a centuries old tree. What happens next is probably not for the best. Having seen other living things go through such a change tells me it's downhill all the way. Everything that happened was normal, natural and as organic as all get out. But it still sucks.
     Those two pines are the highlight of our land. They were the reason for the first path Lois cleared through the hazel brush. You come pay me a visit and I'll no doubt take you over to look at them. To me they're always a thrill. In the early days my nephew Brian and I visited them several times to stand and stare at the three branched fork five feet above the first split. Spent a lot of time talking about a future tree house or platform. And think of climbing to the top to sway in the wind.
     In a January, 1984 dream one of them was blown over and crushed the cabin. Big, nasty winds seem wreak havoc in dreams. Usually means there's a big change coming. And there was. But the dream also gave me the feeling that it'd all be okay if I dumped the useless crap in my life. In my case, part of growing up seemed to be an accumulation of self destructive things. Stuff that'd do me in eventually. Or maybe next Tuesday. What comes first, life or dreams? Or for that matter, the chicken or the egg? Got an answer for the second 'cause I've laid a lot of eggs in my time. Which brings it around to my dreams once again.
     The trees, the water, the out-of-the-wayness, the nothing-specialness of the land we're on. That's its appeal for me. A little bit of a temporary home we share with the bats living under the steel roof. The four or five generations of Eastern Phoebes that have nested on the side of the cabin. The grey fox, deer, skunks, frogs, beavers. The swans passing through in spring and fall, takin' a break on Deadman. Love 'em all. But not like the white pines.
     Two years ago my sister gave me a woodcut print of a white pine. No deer or mallards added to keep the eternal-entertainment-needers from becoming bored. The print, short and sweet. A single tree. Soon as I saw it there was no doubt as to how it had to be framed. Give me a moment and I'll work my way around to it.
     The cabin was built in two phases. The first entirely of store bought lumber. A stick house. When I got going on the addition my friend Greg kept putting bees in my bonnet to do all the finish work with homemade hardwood. Originally he'd pushed for a portable sawmill. Build the place from the ground up with my own trees. Drop 'em, mill 'em, dry 'em and dimension 'em. Oof dah! Had the skill and the money. But time? Never had enough of that. Greg, he was that kind of man and had the scars to prove it. One of his many sidelines was as a tree cutter. Always had logs and lumber around by the thousands of board feet. Pine, oak, walnut, maple and the occasional exotic.
     So we met halfway. He cut someone else's trees down. I bought a bunch of ash and oak logs from him. He hauled them to Lester-up-at-the-sawmill and we hauled them away. In time I planed, tongued and grooved them and used the boards to cover the walls and floors. Showing rare foresight, I kept a few of the natural edge boards. And after twenty-five years a couple remained. They became the picture frame. Damn nice frame and print. Hangs on the cabin wall facing the white pines as it should. In the very spot the dream pine would have crashed its way through.
     In the fifty years we knew each other, Greg'd talk about his grandpa every so often. The one story that stuck with me was how they'd head over to these small, swampy looking lakes a few miles south of Leech Lake. There they'd catch sunnies by the bucket full. Always sounded great to me. His Grandpa was now long gone and had no clue who I was in the first place. That being so I figured he wouldn't mind if me and Al gave them a shot. They were more or less canoe lakes but if you were skillful with a trailer you could dump a small boat in off the gravel road and down the embankment. Even then there was no guarantee that you could get out of the opening bay. You see, a lot of the shoreline is floating bog. Sometimes the first connecting channel is there, sometimes it ain't.
     Our first glance told us it was nothing but bullheads and sunnies. Just like the ones the border guard would have sent us back to had we stunk up Canadian lakes a second year running. Long story short, those holes in the swamp turned out to be our favorite lakes. Al says he'd fish 'em anytime.
     Only went there once with Greg. Glad we made it. High sun, blue cloudless sky, cold front. Didn't catch much but that didn't matter. Being with him, floating on a piece of his past was a pleasure pure and simple. Over the years he'd shared a bunch of treasures with me. The wood, the lakes, his take on life, a hand now and then. But mostly his unquestioned friendship. Greg passed on this Spring.
     Wasn't my intention to end up on that note. But that's how she went. Even had a mention of fishing on the way.

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