The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Old Pine Tree

By Ralph Coleman © 1992

Issue: January, 1992

Though many years have passed, I still recall that evening as if it was yesterday...

Dust swirled into the air, settling on laurels that lined that curvy mountain road, as my old yellow school bus rattled to a stop. Freshly fallen leaves crunched beneath my feet as I jumped off the bus. I eagerly ran up the steep hill that led to my house, just as I had done at the end of every school day. But this time when I got to the top and looked out across my yard, my heart broke; the way it did when Grandad "went away to Heaven."

The old pine tree was gone. The stump had been cut almost even with the ground. The smell of fresh sawdust lingered in the crisp fall air. I sat down in the grass and cried. I was twelve and had just started my first year of junior high. But at that moment I was a five year old that had just lost his favorite toy.

Dad had told me and my younger brother that he was going to cut down the tree. We begged him not to. But country dads just make decisions! No appeals!

Yes, the old pine tree had survived many a wind storm. It had braved many a snow storm. But Dad's determination was one storm it could not weather.

I remembered, about a week before school started, Dad complaining about the old tree scraping the roof of our house. "It's going to cause the roof to leak," he growled.

I pleaded with him, "Just cut the limbs back from the house. Dad, you know how I..."

I still so very clearly remember his words as he sternly stopped me in mid sentence. "Son, the old thing is overgrown and it just don't look right so close to the house. That tree must be two hundred years old. Every time you kids climb up in it, the limbs start to crack and fall down. The old thing has just got to go!"

The "old thing." The old thing was a magnificent castle. Many a summer day was spent high in my castle towers, looking out over my kingdom. The old thing was a hide out for outlaws running from the marshal. The old thing saved my life, many a time, from Indians on the warpath.

Yes, the old pine tree was always there, always inviting. A private place to go to be alone, far away from my troubles below; the broken window, the cattle gate left open... the maple switch that waited for me.

Looking back now, I guess Dad was right. Some of the castle towers were crumbling and falling into the moat below. Maybe the old tree did have to go.

Whenever I see a pine tree in a yard, or on a hillside, I think about my old pine tree. And each spring I plant a seedling in remembrance of the old pine tree, and as I hold the seedling in my hand, I see the magnificent castle it will be some day...