Celebrate the White Pine in autumnby Peter Smith, Minnesota Public Radio
The fall colors are beautiful. But give me a tall old Minnesota white pine. Every time. What a white pine lacks in autumn flash it more than makes up for in majesty.
The way single white pines tower over the hardwood forests along the river bluffs of southeastern Minnesota, for example. Or how you find them everywhere in the upper Mississippi and St. Croix watersheds. You'll see them in farm country wind breaks-and up in the Arrowhead. And across the Iron Range. And all through the big national forests all the way to the Great Plains.
Other trees have a natural symmetry. One side is shaped like the other. Two halves make a whole. But a big old white pine acquires a noble asymmetry as it grows. It drops shaded-out branches as it reaches up past its neighbors for sunlight. It leans into the wind and takes the winter cold and summer lightning strikes. It endures and wears its lifetime of scars like an old fighter.
Every old white pine is its own individual. You can navigate the entire state going from notable tree to notable tree-in a park beside a town library here, in a pasture there. On a point by a cabin across the lake... Atop a ridge across a valley...
There's the sound of the wind in an old white pine. Bach never composed anything nearly as glorious. No cathedral lifts your heart to heaven quite like that.
And people aren't the only ones drawn to old white pines. Bald eagles, osprey, and other birds of prey seek them out too. White pines offer more room for big wingspans. Their heavier branches support bigger nests. More than a hundred other north woods species-including black bears porcupines, martens and scores of different birds-live in and among these trees.
The maples are peaking. The oaks are not as flamboyant, but they're coming along nicely. What with the cool, rainy weather across the state, the birch and popple seem a little late this year. Still, as you take in the fall colors this year, keep an eye out for the dark green of those tall old white pines.
They may not go all gaudy like those other trees, but, somewhere down deep, they'll do your Minnesota heart good.
- Morning Edition, 10/13/2009, 8:45 a.m.
Peter Smith lives in Hopkins, Minn.