I am walking and looking up through the crowns of pines, my boots muffled on soft, orange pine duff. An unfamiliar overcast brightness comes down to meet me. I can see the Wisconsin flowing through the straight trunks of pines, then the slants of ash and river birch growing in the floodplain of the river. Eagles chirrup off in this direction, too, surveying the neighborhood that surrounds their car-sized nest in a pine to my east. I breathe in the smell of the needles covering the earth, look at the Shack and across its prairie, and I think back.
First, I think back only a few months, to an evening walk through the pines. I’d had a long day for reasons I can’t recall, and I needed a quiet space. I turned off the pavement of the road, paced briefly through prairie and the shade of a walnut, and walked beneath a white pine leaning over the path. Suddenly, and completely, the pervasive hum of the distant interstate and my jumbled thoughts were silenced. I closed my eyes as I wandered along the two-track path, trusting in my feet to guide me. With my eyes removed from the equation, I was forced to slow down–to listen and to feel. I noticed a soft cancellation of noise from the distant treetops above me, and I felt thankful for the way these trees welcomed me, my thoughts and all, into quiet.
This pine-quiet was nearly an interior space of its own, walled by the sharp scent of needles and covered overhead by a hushed ceiling; it seemed separate, even from the sun-drenched prairie and, decidedly, from the cars rushing along the freeway. I came “outside” in search of a space that could take me “in,” and I found one under the pines.
Now, I think of the Leopolds walking along this same sun-dappled path and how I am now sharing in their legacy of attention to the land. I imagine each of them having similar experiences among the pines as they grew, each shaped by their individual and incredible ecological understandings. I feel connected to them, wondering what they might write if I asked them to describe what it feels like to stand below tall pines.
The bugle of a pair of sandhill cranes breaks my reflection; the sound signals spring to me. I think of the seasons continuing to pass, as they have in the year I’ve spent here. The cranes left en masse in December, yet now they return to continue. And they will continue to return.
As it all continues, I hope that these pines are here to see it, and that generations of Leopold pine can do the same.
I cut a Leopold pine today, thinking of Aldo and his love of pine, of the Leopold who planted it, the soil it held, and of the future.
The Aldo Leopold Foundation is currently conducting a thinning of the four-acre pine stand east of the Shack, fondly referred to as “Birch Row.” This management is occurring for the health of the pines that will remain, providing each with more sunlight, nutrients, and a chance to respond to these changes with vigor. With continued and careful thinning, the white pines could live for another three hundred years, while the red pines might reach another hundred. To further honor these trees, and the ideals they represent, the Foundation will be producing Leopold benches made from this Leopold pine, offering a chance to share this special material far and wide.
For more information on this routine management, check out our blog about the timber cruise that prompted this historic thinning!