Had Robert Frost lived where I do on Lake Norman, would he have written a poem about pine trees and not one about birches? Pine trees are not as limber as the birches that Frost writes about, so no young boy could be a swinger of pines because a pine would snap, sending the swinger to the ground in a rush, not a slow arch as with the birch. However, since moving to Isle of Pines Road on the Lake, I have been thinking of Frost and his birches and their meaning for him. And pines.
Now, if you move to a road named Isle of Pines, then you know for sure one thing about your new neighborhood. However, as in all situations, knowing about it and living it are two different things. All summer I knew about this isle we were moving to, but in the past few weeks I have been living in the isle and learning about its pines and their ways. The abundance of pine cones and needles taught me the first lesson: There are more of them than of me, so I needed to develop a plan for co-existence, not battle.
Our house was built in the late 1990s, but it appears that no previous owner worked with the pine needles, allowing them to take over areas next to the house and on the driveway. After planting the small butterfly garden in the back yard, I grabbed by trusty pitchfork and removed them to create a border next to our neighbor’s fence. I used a shovel to scrape away the layer of hard mulch and small roots that had spread across the edge of the driveway. This reclamation of space made room for grass and flowers and gave me a sense of ownership but not control. Each time I looked up to the green canopy of over thirty pine trees in our front yard, I realized my place in this isle of pines.
One cleared area between the house and the walkway to the back yard has been designated for a bloom of azaleas, and the small area next to the front entrance will be many pots full of shade loving flowers. The long area following the driveway has been planted with fescue grass, but one large area next to our neighbor’s fence has yet to be planned. (A wild area perhaps). The remainder of the front is either struggling green or piled pine needles nestled at the base of their trees. There are no pine trees in the back yard until you get near the Lake, and we will work with those after we come to full terms around the house.
However, I have learned quite a bit from the over thirty tall pine trees in our front yard. One day while raking, I heard the soft wind travelling through the canopy. It was one of the loveliest of nature’s many melodies. Even the shower of needles that followed was delightful. I have even come to appreciate the symmetrical style of the female pine cones while respecting their piercing points. I no longer startle at the sound of scampering squirrels as they race across the pine’s rough bark, but I did marvel on the day I found my first cone that had been gnawed by a squirrel leaving only its core with a tuft of immature seeds remaining on the top, causing it to look like some cartoon character. And who could not enjoy the bird sounds that erupt from the green canopy high above me. But, perhaps the most enjoyment I have learned from the pines is the way the sun’s light first comes to the topmost green and slowly makes its way down to the thick bases as if caressing the rough, brown bark.
Unlike Frost, I never swung on birches, but as a boy I did climb pine trees. Despite their roughness, sap, and the lasting odor they left on me, I enjoyed their convenient limbs that invited a boy to climb to their lofty tips. The trees in our yard are so tall they have no lower limbs, but even if they did, I am too old to climb. Frost writes that there are worse things to be than a swinger of birches. I agree. And there are worse things than living with pines.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator living on Lake Norman with his wife, five cats, and two hounds.