Nature Journal, December 15, 2021, Schuylkill Center, Philadelphia, PA
I took a walk in the Pine Grove of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. The tall pines stood like giant sentinels. These trees towered over 100 feet above my head. As I craned my neck to search the top of the trees. I hoped to see the silhouette of a sleeping owl. I didn’t see one. I felt like a tiny beetle being watched by lofty beings high above. I felt small.
The Pine Grove suffered heavy damage by a storm back in June. Many trees and large limbs fell down. Big tree trunks and large branches were piled up in large piles through the space.
The ground was covered by a thick carpet on rusty-brown pine needles. The needles are long and fragrant. The needles make it a cushy and satisfying crunchy, as I stepped carefully across the ground. There were many broken branches, half-hidden among the pine needles. It made walking a hazard. If I stepped on them it hurt my feet in the soft moccasins I wore. I hadn’t planned to walk the Pine Grove, it was spur of the moment.
It was so cold. The first time I’ve had cold feet since last winter.
I had come the Pine Grove to find some objects to photograph. I wanted to find needles and pine cones, and chunks of woods and twigs. I picked up a few to carry home.
The Eastern White Pines (Pinus strobus L.) are sometimes called Northern White Pine. They are the largest pine indigenous to eastern Turtle Island (North American continent). The tallest specimens reach 164 feet inches to 188 feet 10 inches. These beautiful trees are the tallest trees in North America.
The trees can reach 5 feet across, from one side of the trunk to another. The circumference can measure up 16 feet around.
White Pines don’t have a strong scent that I would expect or maybe even hope they would. The pine grove does have a clean, fresh scent, but it is subtle.
White Pines and Bald Eagles
The Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse) refer to the White Pine as the “Great Tree of Peace”. Whenever I see a symbol or drawing for the Tree of Peace, an Eagle is perched at the top. The White Pine is a favorite place for Bald Eagles to build their nests.
This makes sense as the Bald Eagle soars so high in the sky. And in many North American indigenous traditions, the Eagle is messenger to the Creator.
The White Pine provides food for Red Crossbills who eat the seeds of the pine cones. The crossbills’ crossed bills, work as levers to pry open pine cones.
Identifying White Pines
Trees: A single tall trunk with dark spreading horizontal limbs
Needles: are delicate foliage in a spray formation, the needles are 3” – 5” long. The needles come five to a bundle. The needles as clustered, soft, flexible and triangular in cross section.
Cones: are slender, tapering and curved. There is a white tip on each cone scale. The white tip is resin.
Bark: the bark is smooth when young and breaks into large broad scales that are separate into deep furrows as it ages.
Lifespan: 200 to 250 years
Habitat: the White Pines live in a wide variety of soils. These trees originally covered the north-central and eastern Turtle Island.
ID Tip: The Eastern White Pine is the only 5-needled native eastern pine. It’s long, narrow cone is distinctive in the east.
My time among the White Pines helped me to understand the deeper meaning of the Words Before All Else, the greeting of gratitude to the natural world. This Mother Earth is deep with love and meaning. I am so grateful for all She provides for me. Wado.
See also: Owl Prowl: Great Horned Owls