Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

Planting pines

This time of year reminds me of two holiday breaks years ago spent planting pine trees. My father owns a piece of acreage near Chidester, Arkansas, which looks as though it ought to be the perfect place for a stand of pine trees. Pine trees are the typical cash crop in this part of the world, and tall loblolly pines grow here, there and everywhere.

Once when I was in high school, and once when I was in college, my younger brother, two older cousins and I were dispatched with great sacks full of seedling pines and divots to began planting. A "divot" is a metal pole which tapers off in a sort of a sharp triangle. A divot has a footrest on it, but is otherwise a pretty simple bit of welded material. One plants one's boot on a divot, drives it into the ground,and then pulls the pole towards oneself. The result is a hole nearly perfect for the planting of a seedling pine. In tree planting, each man takes a parellel row, and does the divot, plant, cover hole, march on, routine over and over and over.
We planted thousands of trees this way, in twenty degree weather, taking breaks to sit in a heated pickup truck, and drink hot chocolate from enormous individidual thermos bottles, into which we dropped large marshmallows which melted into the hot chocolate.

This work required a fair bit of effort. Back and leg muscles used to attending high school or college require a little time to get used to the planting routine. The work was sweaty, with perspiration beading around the heavy winter coats and the toboggan caps. Yet it was somehow strangely satisfying, mindlessly popping those trees into the ground. I sang sometimes as I planted, a sort of second rate Jonny Appleseed, complete with off key song. The holly trees which were the "undergrowth" trees had ample berries. One day, the sun came out and warmed things up to 60. We took our rest that day on a bed of pine straw under the sun.

I haven't been out to see how many of the trees we planted actually "took"; the last time I knew much about it, not that many grew to adulthood. Other stands of timber in that region do so much better. Today I took my nephew fishing at White Oak Lake, where we saw tall, healthy pines surrounding the lake, while buzzards hovered everywhere overhead. We saw a great blue heron standing in knee high (for a heron) water. We then headed over to Lester Creek, a tiny creek not much bigger than a trickle, in the middle of nowhere, so that my 9 year old nephew could fish a creek in which my father, my nephew's "Poppa", fished when Poppa was nine years old, some sixty years ago. At that time, the woodlands were small farms. Changing economic times brought an end to that era, and now it is mostly pine trees. We passed deer hunting camps everywhere, but we saw a fair number of derelict former residences mixed among the few permanent occupants' houses.

In the Spring, I will come back, to better fishing, and white-flowered dogwood trees in bloom. The winter's deer hunters will have given way to people "mud-riding" down the country roads. There's no shortage of trees, which provide a livelihood to folks all around this part of the country. But a part of me wishes for my divot, a sack full of seedling pines, and the sight of my breath leaving my body as I sing while I plant.

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