Through an extremely lucky break — me being a Yankee fortunate enough to marry a North Carolina gal, and because the Marine Corps assigned me to air stations in eastern North Carolina during my service — the Old North State has been my adopted home for over 30 years now.
During those 30 years, pine trees have been a constant presence. And the Sandhills don’t have a corner on that market. Recently downsized and moved to Southern Pines from the coast, where I spent most of those 30 years, we had our own share of pine trees “down east” — along with our own “pine” names. In fact, we lived off Piney Green Road in Onslow County for a time when I was on active duty.
North Carolina and pine trees go together like biscuits and butter. Like most North Carolinians, I have quite a history with pine trees of various species.
I’ve searched for and found fatwood, lighter wood, fat lighter, pine knot, lighter knot or whatever you might call the resin-hardened, conifer-created, 100 percent natural-made fire starter that comes courtesy of Mother Nature. I’ve started fires using that lighter wood as well as dried pine needles twisted into a wick as tinder and coaxed the flickering flames with dried pine cones.
I’ve been showered by flecks of pine cone droppings from squirrels eating green pine cones and spitting out the unappetizing pieces from the pine branches far above me.
I’ve raked up pine needles around our trees and piled them up under a blanket to serve as a perfectly natural and comfy cushion off the ground for sleeping during our campouts. Right or wrong, we believed our pine straw mattress was a natural insect repellent too.
I’ve marveled at the swirls of bright yellow pine pollen “painting” the puddles after a springtime rain and held my breath to prevent inhaling the clouds of the amber pollen stirred up while sweeping off our front porch in April.
I’ve listened to pine trees “sing” as warm breezes blew through their needle-coifed limbs.
During naval aviator survivor training in the Croatan National Forest surrounding Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, the instructor suggested, as we were foraging for other edible plants, that we pull the loblolly pine needles off low-hanging branches and suck on the woody tips, using that piney, turpentine flavor to ease our hunger pangs and even, perhaps, to receive a small amount of nutritional value in the deal.
While most of my experiences with pines are positive, there can be sadness with trees too. An in-law relative was killed by a falling pine tree, the driver’s compartment of her car crushed while the passenger compartment, with her two children still strapped in car seats, remained unscathed.
And, of course like many of us, I’ve wondered if that tall pine tree out yonder behind the house would cut our house in half if it broke off during a hurricane. Yet, I never cut it down. And yes, it broke off during Hurricane Florence, its tap root holding onto a part of the trunk, the major portion of the tree blessedly falling parallel to and 20 or so yards away from the house rather than perpendicular to it acting like a giant buzzsaw, slicing our home in half.
And there are more pines to act like buzzsaws than you can shake a stick at in our state.
According to the website www.ncpedia.org/tree-pine, “Eight of the 60 species of pine trees flourish in North Carolina, including the loblolly, longleaf, short-leaf, Eastern white, pitch, pond, Virginia, and Table Mountain pine. Of these, the loblolly and longleaf are the best known.”
With their abundance, variety and history of economic impact on N.C. shipbuilding and turpentine industries — that economic impact exists today still in the farming and logging of pines — it makes sense that the pine tree is our state tree.
According to ncpedia.org, “The pine was officially designated as the state tree by the General Assembly of 1963. Despite popular belief, no single species of pine is designated as the official tree of North Carolina. Many people believe that the longleaf pine is the state tree; indeed, many websites still list this species as one of North Carolina’s official symbols. This is probably due to our N.C. State Toast (written by Leonora Monteiro Martin), the first stanza that goes,
“Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine // The summer land where the sun doth shine
Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great // Here’s to ‘Down Home,’ the Old North State!’”
The “Land of the Long Leaf Pine” is an appropriate way to describe our state, even if doing so disparages the seven other species of pine native to the state. And Arlene and I are happy to be now living in Southern Pines where longleaf is king.
I look forward to being invited into your homes via The Pilot from time to time now that we’re here.
Barry Fetzer is a retired U.S. Marine aviator who lives in Southern Pines. He has written columns previously for The Havelock News.