Letter to the editor: Pining for pinesThomas Koehler’s letter (Opinion, “Symbols can mean more than one thing,” Sept. 4) illuminated thoughtful perspectives on humans, trees, and symbolism — with regard to the late eastern white pine near Two Harbors known as the “honking tree.”
Thomas Koehler’s letter (Opinion, “Symbols can mean more than one thing,” Sept. 4) illuminated thoughtful perspectives on humans, trees, and symbolism — with regard to the late eastern white pine near Two Harbors known as the “honking tree.”
We humans have, in turn, utilized, loved, romanticized and despised these tall plants everywhere, even to the extent of a quasi-spiritual relationship at times. We have revered and feared them, eaten their fruits and seeds, constructed shelter, defense and temples with their hard trunks, fought wars and signed treaties under their branches, and written our languages on their bark and fiber. Cross-culturally and somewhat universally, we often used them as tools with which to hang, burn, torture, and display criminals, war captives, or the hapless who failed to offer appropriate obeisance to the religion or politics of the moment.
A local historical example of reverence would be the special regard with which the workers of the 17th to 19th centuries’ American fur trade held the white pine. On their travels through our area, voyageurs might remove branches from the middle of a large, prominent white or red pine, leaving a tuft of branches above and below, as a celebration of a holiday, special person (maybe their bourgeois), and as a highly visible, enduring portage marker. Future passersby would always pay their respects to such a tree, known as a lob pine.
Some extra sensitivity might be gained with respect to Two Harbors’ favorite tree by reading John Vaillant’s “The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed,” a well-told account of a very significant and unusual Sitka Spruce (and its curious destruction by a troubled person in the 1990s) on the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. It’s a gripping story that draws from biology, anthropology, forest ecology, logging, economics, history, and the sea otter fur trade between Russians and the Haida people of the Northwest Coast — folks of the rain forest, large dugout cedar war canoes and totem poles. Published by W.W. Norton & Co. in 2005, this distinguished work is available in paperback.