|Daya and Dave at Hartwick Pines|
The other week I spent a few days up on the Au Sable River in a cabin with Dave and Daya. Daya is the colleague I’ve been working with who is from Taiwan (he leaves tomorrow for his home). One morning, waiting for the rain to stop, we headed over to Hartwick Pines State Park. I’d never been there and was pleasantly surprised to find a pocket of old growth forest within the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. It’s not much of a pocket, only forty or so acres of virgin forest, but it’s impressive: huge white and red pines, hemlocks, beech and sugar maples. To make it even more enjoyable, the beech and maples were at peak color.
|A red and white pine, side by side|
At the Visitors’ Center, I struck up a conversation with the ranger about white pines. Having grown up (as I’ve written about before) in longleaf pine country, I am curious about other types of pines. The great longleaf forests of the southeast are gone. At one time, there were over 93 million acres of longleaf forest in the southeast, but today only a few millions acres remain. Similarly, a lot of the white pine has been cut. I am not sure how many acres remain of white pines, but there use to be over 10 million acres just in the Great Lakes region and the pines extended across Southern Canada and the northern part of the United States.
I learned from the ranger, the white and longleaf pines are similar in that neither grows particularly well on their own. For this reason, as they’ve been harvested, they are often replaced with other types of pine, like red pine up here and loblolly pine down south, which grow better in plantations. Furthermore, they both depend on fires to maintain a healthy forest, which also puts them in conflict with human needs. However, there are some ways the trees are no alike. The white pine tends to grow in a mixed forest where the longleaf tended to dominate the canopy and the other trees that grew underneath, such as the blackjack oak, were much smaller.
Under a canopy of trees, when an older tree dies, a younger white pine will shoot up toward the sky, dropping its limbs as it grows, until it is above the canopy where its branches will spread out and add to the canopy’s cover. I love how these trees tower over the others, something that is easy to see from the water’s edge, where a white pine will stand taller than the surrounding tree. These mature white pines are valuable timber because as they drop their branches, the wood becomes less knotty. However, when the tree grows by itself, out from under the canopy, it spreads out wide with long branches that are susceptible to breaking off in ice storms. Such trees are also more susceptible to insect attack, leaving them weaker and often with a split in the bark, making it less strong. Such trees are also less valuable as lumber.
In listening to the ranger, I immediately began to think of ways these trees can serve as metaphors for our lives. We are not, after all, lone rangers. We benefit from the community of which we are a part, and we need one another. Like the tree, by ourselves we are not as valuable and more prone to problems, but within the community our potential is much greater and there is safety. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “A self-sufficient human being is subhuman… God has made us so that we will need each other.” In that way, we’re a lot like trees and everything else in God’s glorious creation. We’re interconnected.
After exploring the visitor’s center, we walked around the old growth part of the forest and visited a logging camp. We stopped by an old hotel where Henry Ford used to stay when fishing the Au Sable and then had lunch and in the afternoon, I took Daya down the river in one of Dave’s canoes. It was nice to be away for a few days.