We are fortunate to have a number of mature Eastern white pines (Pinus strobus), the tree the Ojibwe call zhingwaak, on our land. For me, the white pine symbolizes my love for this place called Minnesota. Tracing the silhouettes of pines at sunset on Island Lake as young boy, I first knew the joy of observing nature. I’ve wanted to live among the pines ever since.
The white pine, along with its cousin the Norway or red pine (Pinus resinosa) attracted the first logging companies to Minnesota Territory back in the mid-1800s. Pine boards built thousands of homes, barns, storefronts, churches and schoolhouses throughout the Midwest.
Pine was in such demand during the settlement era that logging companies took every tree they could find, leaving barren landscapes wherever they went. The greed of the timber barons provided impetus for the allotment acts that broke up the White Earth and Leech Lake reservations and allowed the taking of most of the land originally reserved for the Ojibwe by treaty.
Today, only remnants of these once-great pine forests can be found in scattered locations in northern Minnesota. Perhaps the most notable of these pine islands is the Lost Forty, located northwest of Grand Rapids. A surveying mistake in 1882 resulted in the preservation of a small piece of Minnesota’s pre-settlement forest. (You can get a glimpse of the Lost Forty in this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSBTlJGCitE)
The white pines on our land are probably “second-growth” trees that got established after the logging boom, which makes them at least 100 years old. They form a crown atop the knob we are building on, visible from across the lake and from the river outlet along Crown Point Road (I like to think the road is named after our little hill).
We reluctantly took down one of these majestic trees to make room for our house. We want to remember and honor this tree so we are incorporating as much of it as we can into our new home. After my friend Mike the DNR Forester felled the tree for us back in April, I hauled several of the logs to a local sawmill to have them sawn into 2.5-inch slabs which were then kiln-dried and planed. Last September, I picked up the sawn pieces from the mill and began making what will become “floating” shelves throughout the house.
We are also having the top for our kitchen island made from these slabs. Athough it may not be practical to leave the bark on the island top, we’ll retain the natural shape of the edges. Our fireplace will feature the slab on the far right of the above photo, bark and all, as the mantel.
Meanwhile, as I poked around the woods this fall, I began to locate white pine seedlings coming up around our building site.
To keep the deer from eating the terminal buds on these trees this winter, I erected little fences around each tree.
I’ll remove the fences in the spring to avoid inhibiting their growth. Although Mel and I will be long gone when these trees become mature and add to the beauty of Crown Point, we hope our descendants and others will enjoy them for years to come.