Four of us had climbed up the steep slope to High Rock, at the far end of the island that was our home for a week. The climb was steep enough that I positioned myself (actually, was told to position myself) just behind the leader, with the two others at my back. I stretched my legs farther than usual to reach from one rock to the next one. I was grateful for the handholds afforded by saplings and their older cousins. I was careful, always; concerned, sometimes. But we all made it to the top of High Rock, and we rewarded ourselves with lunch and an hour of story-telling, revealing parts of ourselves that we might ordinarily have hidden.
High Rock was not ordinary. When the broad surface of the rock was finally empty of tourists and Boy Scouts, and we were alone, we four went our separate ways for an hour of solitary exploration. Since the trip itself had pretty much satisfied my desire for exploration, I found a large, flat rock of Canadian Shield, connected to the very center of the planet, and I lay on it, my back feeling into the rock with a different kind of exploration. My hat over my face shielded me from the hot, bright sun, but I left a squinting space to see what was before me.
What was before me was a white pine. It was rooted on a ledge beneath my lying-on rock, and it loomed in my sight ready to make my acquaintance. It held as many dead branches as live ones, and it had that lopsided, anti-Christmas-tree, asymmetrical shape of the white pine. Take me as I am, it said. If you're looking for cute, go find a tree farm.
So I took it as it was. It yielded to my exploration even more easily than my lying-on rock had. It told me about its life: it always lived in the shadow of death, surrounded by examples of its fate. Nature loves to create but is not too good at maintenance. Hey, she says, I just give everybody a start, over and over and over. What they do with it isn't really my business. Not. My. Job.
The white pine was still. The clouds moved quickly overhead, sheep without a shepherd, and the pine reveled in each passing shadow, because each change from shade to sun, sun to shade, was a new moment to savour. Look, it said: sun, now shade, now sun again. What changes I get to observe! What changes become part of me!
As I lay there, a breeze arose from nowhere. The pine, ecstatic, swayed, and from midway up the trunk all the way to the tippy-top needles at the ends of the branches, it danced the dance of all its parts, slow and fast depending on thickness and relation to the breeze. But every part that moved was thrilled. Even the lower trunk and roots, although my eye didn't discern movement, took joy in the dance of the tree.
This white pine, or so it said, lived for the wind and the clouds and the sun. Had it been a rainy day, it would have said it lived for the rain, for the grays, dark and light, of the sky. I met this pine in the summer. And we didn't talk at all about the northern winter, the dark side of his life. That is for another conversation.
But we all know how deep its roots are: only as deep as they can go through the "soil" of pine needles and scrub oak leaves and mosses and lichen that have built up on the island's rock.
And so my white pine is as susceptible as all his clan to the freezings and thawings and fierce winds of winter. To the cold weight of a blanket of snow on limbs. And, as I said, all around it were the examples of other trees: lost limbs, whole trees toppled by wind or dried by drought until they fell of their own weight. And the white pine I met was sanguine about all this (if I may use such a fleshly adjective for such a woody creature). It lived for cloud and sun and breeze, for rain and wind, and yes, for winter's blast.
And when it is time for him to fall, then fall he will, eventually, to become the medium for new growth. In the meantime, I absorbed his resonance with life as he absorbed mine, and I brought the white pine home with me.