hidden life

The tree stands among a tall grove of white pine above a white lake. Resting lightly in winter, the pine reports once like a gunshot in the deep settled cold. Then, quiet is here, snow-filled silence. But next, from far upslope near the road, the distant buzz of the chipper drifts down through snowy woodland. Passing through trees comes the jingling of winch chains and great chain-dressed wheels, mixed with the gunning of a skidder. Jingling on this twitch trail cut by loggers late last week, the big skidder rumbles right down to the pine. Halting, wafting blue smoke and fumes, the skidder looses a logger.

 

The great bole’s bark is chunky, fissured, having guarded its inner bark and a fragile layer of hidden cells. The life of this white pine is in this slim satiny smooth layer. For all its mass girth height age, here only, and in this present moment, does this tree renew itself. The rest of the tree is its history. Outer and inner bark, sapwood, heart and pith: Each layer, itself once risen from cambium, lively, now serves but to support the pine and preserve its identity. Cambium, this fine cell layer, is present life, conveying vitality to the whole. It is life in very light wood, a soft wood. And its uses are many.

The old pine groans. The logger pulls the saw away. The tree shudders visibly, shifting on its fresh stump. It comes down with the swiftness of a shadow falling across its neighbors; cracking and thundering. The tree lies prone, covering more earth in this separation than in its hundred upright years. A hush lingers around the severed trunk but, heedless, the logger jumps aboard, running along its length to the branches. Easily he limbs them with his awwing saw. The skidder backs up to the massive butt, an operator jumps down, exclaiming over its great size. The pulp-truck driver will have a time loading them onto his truck. The size of these will spark his imagination. Such great old trees are rarer these days, seems. Rarer than blue tourmaline.

from the opening of God’s House in Winter

©1994, 2014 by s. dorman

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