Washing dishes became a contemplative act for me back on the farm. Once I rolled up my sleeves and resigned myself to the fact that it must be done, I never really minded it. I had my method and Wendy had hers. Mine began with the glassware and ended with the cast-iron skillet that was used for 90 percent of my epicurean creations. All this was accompanied by classic country on the satellite radio where, if I was lucky, a Buck Owens tune would come on.
Most old farmhouses I’ve been in have a window located above the sink. I remember my grandfather’s wash sink looked east across a timothy-clover hayfield beyond the maples that lined his driveway. It led to a stanchion barn that housed his Guernsey herd.
From the window above the sink in our former farmhouse I could see the bird feeders and water-tank gardens. My gaze would then travel across a rise to the big white pine in the bull pasture.
“The big pine.” That’s what it was known as.
It was a landmark during deer hunting – a place to locate a stander during drives. It was a place for winter crows to light upon as they did their raucous marauding. I fenced off its trunk to keep it protected and made a breeding-bull pasture out of the 3 acres around it. Then it became a shade refuge while the bulls awaited turn-out.
I always figured “the big pine” had its own personal ecosystem. Besides those winter crows it was a stopping place for migrating birds and a lair for 30-pound raccoons. It had bats in its belfry. If I watched during summer sunsets I could see them take off from the uppermost branches into the evening sky. It was the final resting place for the first cecropia moth I’d ever seen. It’s a creature that lacks a functional digestive system, thus limiting its time on earth to two weeks.
“The big pine” had a life of its own. It greeted folks coming to our farm from the west.
“It’s just past the big pine; you’ll know it’s our house by the tin roof,” I’d tell people when giving directions to our home.
When arriving from the east it was “the big pine” that let travelers know they’d gone too far. It was a landmark for us on the farm, a sentinel of sorts.
Its trunk was almost 4 feet in diameter. I can only speculate on its age. Pinus strobus, or white pine, was designated the tree of peace by the Native American Haudenosaunee people. Only a small percentage of old-growth forests remain after extensive logging operations from the 18th through early-20th centuries.
The big pine that graced our farm might be an old-growth relic. Because of its roadside location it might have survived without being removed to clear a field for cropping.
One theory a friend shared with me indicates what the pine might be, albeit anecdotally. Occasionally a white pine branches out low on its trunk with thick limbs. That makes it undesirable for lumber use and the “reject” is spared to live for hundreds of years. Our pine fit that description. Some old-growth pines have been dated to about 500 years of age in Michigan and Wisconsin.
The other morning I received a text from Toby, whom I sold the farm to. The big pine had tipped over, he typed. Accompanying his text was a photo of the pine across the bull pasture fence as it lay on its side.
I went there to take a few pictures of my own. I’m sure it fell with a mighty report – a resounding crack and a whispering swoosh when the loblolly branches did a slow-motion domino-like descent to rest on the ground that had supported the tree for untold years.
If that tree could talk, I’d be part of its story – a fortunate bystander on its long-lived timeline.