By Robin Wall Kimmerer, Yes, October 29, 2021
In “White Pine,” excerpted here, Robin Wall Kimmerer describes Indigenous reverence for trees, which are “respected as unique, sovereign beings equal to or exceeding the power of humans.”
When I come beneath the pines, into that particular dappled light, time slows, and I fall under their spell.
My science brain and my intuitive brain are both alight with knowing.
Is it the spaciousness of the leafy vaulted ceiling?
Maybe the terpenoids in pine vapors exert a psychological influence, producing an altered state of tranquil alertness.
Perhaps it’s the quivering energy of electrical micro-discharge from the needles.
Maybe we are humbled simply by their size.
Is it the sound of boughs rising and falling, like slow breathing?
There’s something there we sense, but cannot name, a feeling akin to sitting quietly in the presence of an elder.
So it is, with pines.
You want to slip into their circle and listen.
My favorite place to read on a summer day is leaning against the bole of a big old white pine.
There’s almost always a hollow there, upholstered in a coppery brocade of pine needles with comfy armrests of the buttressed roots which hold up the pillar of pine rising two hundred feet above me.
These piney points above the lake’s water are beloved in the north woods, for the sand and granite below, sun and wind above, and a view across the lake, which at this moment is dancing up white caps in the breeze.
In this woodland library, I have one book on my lap and the other against my back. One written on cellulose, one written in cellulose.
When I sit with white pines, I wordlessly come to know things that I didn’t know before.
White pine is revered across Indigenous cultures as a symbol of wisdom, longevity, and of peace.
They are thanked for their material gifts of medicine, materials, fuel, and food and for their spiritual gifts.
Pines are understood as among our oldest teachers; in fact, they are of an ancient lineage in the tree world and have seen much change across the earth.
Among some people, white pine is regarded as the “ogema” of the forest, the seat of leadership.
The pine, like all trees, is spoken of in my Anishinaabe language, not as an object, an “it” but as a “who,” a person of some standing, whose name is Zhingwak.
Charismatic white pines are honored as elders.
They are the esteemed companions of the visionary eagle who uses their emergent canopy as nest and watchtower.
Zhingwak plays many roles in the canon of Native stories, as a protector of human people and the embodiment of highest virtues.
Known as the Tree of Peace, white pine is the iconic symbol of the Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, who taught the people peace through unity, by its five soft needles, bound together as one.
The tallest, strongest, most enduring being in the forest is the botanical representation of the oldest democracy on the planet.