2016-27 Noble Nature: "The Story of a 1000-year Pine" by Enos A Mills
Enos Abijah Mills [1870-1922] was an American naturalist and homesteader. He was
the main figure behind the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park. Mills was born in Pleasanton, Kansas, but moved to Colorado at the age of 14. He built his homestead near Longs Peak, Colorado at the age of 15. At 15, he made his first ascent of the 14,255-foot Longs Peak. Over the course of his life, he made more than 300 trips by himself and as a guide. In 1889, Mills met the famed naturalist John Muir and from then on, dedicated his life to conservation activism, lecturing, and writing. He trained many nature guides at his homestead, who in turn, guided many more up Longs Peak neighborhood. Mills also led the fight successfully to preserve the area around Longs Peak as a national park. Congress established Rocky Mountain National Park in 1915 and Mills was called the "Father of the Rocky Mountain National Park".
|Enos A Mills [1870-1922]|
|Mills: "Father of Rocky Mountain National Park"|
|Book: "The Story of A Thousand-Year Pine" |
The peculiar charm and fascination that trees exert over many people I had always felt from childhood, but it was that great nature-lover, John Muir, who first showed me how and where to learn their language.
Few trees, however, ever held for me such an attraction as did a gigantic and venerable yellow pine which I discovered one autumn day several years ago while exploring the southern Rockies...
|Sunset in Old Pine land|
Many a time I returned to build my camp-fire by it and have a day or a night in its solitary and noble company. I learned afterwards that it had been given the name "Old Pine," and it certainly had an impressiveness quite compatible with the age and dignity which go with a thousand years of life.
When, one day, the sawmill-man at Mancos wrote, "Come, we are about to log your old pine," I started at once, regretting that a thing which seemed to me so human, as well as so noble, must be killed.
A grand and impressive tree he was. Never have I seen so much individuality, so much character, in a tree. Although lightning had given him a bald crown, he was still a healthy giant, and was waving evergreen banners more than one hundred and fifteen feet above the earth. His massive trunk, eight feet in diameter on a level with my breast, was covered with a thick, rough, golden-brown bark which was broken into irregular plates. Several of his arms were bent and broken. Altogether, he presented a timeworn but heroic appearance.
It is almost a
marvel that trees should live to become the oldest of living things. Fastened
in one place, their struggle is incessant and severe. From the moment a baby
tree is born—from the instant it casts its tiny shadow upon the ground—until
death, it is in danger from insects and animals. It cannot move to avoid
danger. It cannot run away to escape enemies. Fixed in one spot, almost
helpless, it must endure flood and drought, fire and storm, insects and
earthquakes, or die.
|Baby Tree - Tiny Shadow|
Trees, like people, struggle for existence, and an aged tree, like an aged person, has not only a striking appearance, but an interesting biography. I have read the autobiographies of many century-old trees, and have found their life-stories strange and impressive. The yearly growth, or annual ring of wood with which trees envelop themselves, is embossed with so many of their experiences that this annual ring of growth literally forms an autobiographic diary of the tree's life. I wanted to read Old Pine's autobiography.
A veteran pine that had stood on the southern Rockies and struggled and
the changing seasons of hundreds of years must contain a rare life-story.
From his stand between the Mesa and the pine-plumed mountain, he had seen the
panorama of the seasons and many a strange pageant; he had beheld what scenes
of animal and human strife, what storms and convulsions of nature! Many a
wondrous secret he had locked within his tree soul.
It may be that the seed from which Old Pine burst had been planted by an ancient ancestor of the protesting Douglas who was in possession, or this seed may have been in a cone which simply bounded or blew into a hole, where the seed found sufficient mould and moisture to give it a start in life.
...Two loggers swung their axes. At the first blow
a Douglas squirrel came out of a hole at the base of a dead limb near the top
of the tree and made an aggressive claim of ownership, setting up a vociferous
protest against the cutting. As his voice was unheeded, he came scolding down
the tree, jumped off one of the lower limbs, and took refuge in a young pine
that stood near by. From time to time he came out on the top of the limb
nearest to us, and, with a wry face, fierce whiskers, and violent gestures,
directed a torrent of abuse at the axemen who were delivering death-blows to
|Death-blows to Old Pine|
I carefully examined the base of his stump, and in it I found 1047 rings of growth! He had lived through a thousand and forty-seven memorable years. As he was cut down in 1903, his birth probably occurred in 856.
|Annual Rings of Growth of a Tree|
Old Pine not only received injuries in his early years, but from time to time throughout his life. The somewhat kinked condition of several of the rings of growth, beginning with the twentieth, shows that at the age of twenty he sustained an injury which resulted in a severe curvature of the spine, and that for some years he was somewhat stooped. However, after a few years he straightened up with youthful vitality and seemed to outgrow and forget the experience.
A century of tranquil life followed, and during these years the rapid growth tells of good seasons as well as good soil. This rapid growth also shows that there could not have been any crowding neighbors to share the sun and the soil. The tree had grown evenly in all quarters, and the pith of the tree was in the centre. But had one tree grown close, on that quarter the old pine would have grown slower than the others and would have been thinner, and the pith would thus have been away from the tree's centre.
When the old pine was just completing his one hundred and thirty-fifth ring of growth, he met with an accident which I can account for only by assuming that a large tree that grew several yards away blew over, and in falling, stabbed him in the side with two dead limbs. His bark was broken and torn, but this healed in due time.
A year or two later some ants and borers began excavating their deadly winding ways in the old pine. They probably started to work in one of the places injured by the falling tree. They must have had some advantage, or else something must have happened to the nuthatches and chickadees that year, for, despite the vigilance of these birds, both the borers and the ants succeeded in establishing colonies that threatened injury and possibly death.
|Chief Surgeon of Pineries - Texas Woodpecker|
These not only required him to cut deeply into the old pine and take out the borers, but he may also have had to come back from time to time to dress the wounds by devouring the ant-colonies which may have persisted in taking possession of them. The wounds finally healed, and only the splitting of the affected parts revealed these records, all filled with pitch and preserved for nearly nine hundred years.
The oldest, largest portion of a tree is the short section immediately above the ground, and, as this lower section is the most exposed to accidents or to injuries from enemies, it generally bears evidence of having suffered the most. Within its scroll are usually found the most extensive and interesting autobiographical impressions.
It is doubtful if there is any portion of the earth upon which there are so many deadly struggles as upon the earth around the trunk of a tree. Upon this small arena there are battles fierce and wild; here nature is "red in tooth and claw." When a tree is small and tender, countless insects come to feed upon it. Birds come to it to devour these insects. Around the tree are daily almost merciless fights for existence.
|Mice Rats and Rabbits|
The lower section of Old Pine's trunk contained records which I found interesting. One of these in particular aroused my imagination. I was sawing off a section of this lower portion when the saw, with a buzz-z-z-z, suddenly jumped. The object struck was harder than the saw. I wondered what it could be, and, cutting the wood carefully away, laid bare a flint arrowhead. Close to this one I found another, and then with care I counted the rings of growth to find out the year that these had wounded Old Pine. The outer ring which these arrowheads had pierced was the six hundred and thirtieth, so that the year of this occurrence was 1486.
The year that Columbus discovered America, Old Pine was a handsome giant with a round head held more than one hundred feet above the earth. He was six hundred and thirty-six years old, and with the coming of the Spanish adventurers his lower trunk was given new events to record. The year 1540 was a particularly memorable one for him. This year brought the first horses and bearded men into the drama which was played around him. This year, for the first time, he felt the edge of steel and the tortures of fire.
From time to time in the old pine's record, I came across what seemed to be indications of an earthquake shock. During 1859 some one made an axe-mark on the old pine that may have been intended for a trail-blaze, and during the same year another fire badly burned and scarred his ankle. I wonder if some prospectors came this way in 1859 and made camp by him.
Another record of man's visits to the tree was made in the summer of 1881, when I think a hunting or outing party may have camped near here and amused themselves by shooting at a mark on Old Pine's ankle. Several modern rifle-bullets were found embedded in the wood around or just beneath a blaze which was made on the tree the same year in which the bullets had entered it. As both these marks were made during the year 1881, it is at least possible that this year the old pine was used as the background for a target during a shooting contest.
|Douglas Squirrel with a Pine Cone|
"The Story of a 1000-year Pine" forms the Second Chapter of the book "Wild Life on the Rockies"