From the Marchives*: Pines and potential

* I originally wrote this piece way back in August, 2006, and it was published in the Brainerd Daily Dispatch newspaper. My post from two days ago brought this story to mind. Hey, I can plagiarize myself once in a while! ;-{)

As I write this, the scent of pine sap still lingers on my left hand; there is also still a faint tackiness detected if I rub my thumb and forefinger together. The aroma is sweet, filled with memories…and potential.

I had navigated our family vacation through the stomping grounds of my youth, and now we had stopped in the heart of Minnesota lake country

On a map, Horseshoe Lake is located in Mission Township, Crow Wing County, Minnesota; to me, it is the Atlas that charted much of my early course in life; my emotional “true north.” I learned to drive on these roads, stole a first kiss on a wooded trail here, made lifelong friendships. I swam and fished the waters of Horseshoe, walked its tall timber and spent countless hours in the company of a bunch of vigorously retired Swedes, Germans and Norwegians from whom I garnered much of what I know about how to live a life.

I grew up here.

My last visit was close to 10 years ago. My return today was not planned with any great forethought, nor was I naively expecting that things would be only as I remembered them. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was as much familiar to me as there was; many of the same families are still around, most of the homes of my old friends look much as they did 30 years ago, though a few could use a fresh coat of paint.

Of all the changes I had expected, one I didn’t completely blew me away; the house I had lived in as a guest for all those summers was gone. The home of our friends Ivar and Lila – the comfortable home with the panoramic eastern view of the lake and the walkout basement – was gone, as was the Burroughs’s old place next door to it. In their place, straddling what was once two lots is now a beautiful, spacious house with rustic, varnished log siding, an even more open eastern view, and in what was once Ivar and Lila’s backyard, a circular driveway that encompasses a small putting green.

My, how things have changed.

Just to the left of the driveway stood a clump of some six pine trees. The house was foreign to me. Those trees I knew well. They were the remnants of what was once a large stand of white, red and Norway pines that had once defined the back area of the house. I knew those trees, because I had planted most of them

I rang the bell and introduced myself to the homeowner, a woman about my age named Barb. I explained I had spent most of my youthful summers on this property as a kid, and had planted many of the pine trees on the property. I asked her if I could bring my sons up to harvest some of the pine cones on the ground and she graciously encouraged me to take as many as we wanted. I thanked her, returned to the van, and got my sons Will and Sam, ages 10 and 7. As we walked toward the house, I explained that the tall white pines in front of us were once saplings in quart milk cartons, and that I had begun planting them here when I was 6.

Barb had by then come out on her porch to observe the harvest, and as the boys and I picked up an array of green and brown pine cones, at her request, I told her some of the history of the place and how I had come to plant these trees. I explained how our family friend, Ivar, had grown them from seed in the milk cartons in the basement of the Minneapolis duplex our families shared, and how we had transported them north to Horseshoe; six dozen of them sitting neatly on the rear floor of Lila’s 1939 Dodge coupe, me on the spacious back seat watching over them. I recalled how, after Ivar dug the holes, I dropped in the milk cartons, covered the whole thing with dirt, then watered them with a hose. I also told of how I subsequently followed up by taking charge of their ongoing watering and nurturing on my summer visits over the next 14 years or so. I was able to add in enough local name-dropping and Mission Township history that my story apparently rang true to her.

Only a few minutes had passed, and as the boys and I collected the last of our conical treasures, I thanked Barb for allowing us the opportunity to harvest; she in turn graciously thanked us for stopping by. We began walking back to where we had parked, and I couldn’t help but think it odd that in some ways I had more invested in those towering, 90-foot pines than Barb, their owner, did. Then Will casually mentioned that “maybe we could plant some of these and grow our own trees.”

Good idea, son. As we started to drive away, I smiled and began contemplating the potential. Thanks to a friendly stranger, a part of my past may once again be part of the boyhood of some little Lucker kid.


One thought on “From the Marchives*: Pines and potential

  1. Grmarachel July 18, 2010 / 11:32 am

    Always fun to read Mark! Being that we just got back from Pelican Lake, Mom mentioned in the car ride out to the cabin and back that you had spent your summers up there, with Ivar. Amazing how some memories never fade, we were lucky to have Battle Lake growing up, now our kids have Pelican Lake! You had Horseshoe Lake and your boys now know your legacy, it goes on and on. Pools don’t have that kind of impact unless you are a city kid from southern Minnesota and only have a dirty river or pool to experience. Glad our kidsd had the lakes too! 🙂


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