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Birney Imes: Search for pine tree evokes childhood memories




Got out of bed Saturday morning intending to plant a pine tree. In winter, the orange glow of the security lights in neighbors' backyards makes ours look like a set in a David Lynch movie. Maybe a fast-growing pine could help things. 


My nurseryman, from whom I'd bought a nice 7-foot loblolly a couple weeks ago, said the day before a cousin had cleaned out his stock of pine trees. Thwarted, I headed to Lowe's for other landscaping needs by way of the neighborhood I grew up in, Chickasaw Drive, off Bluecutt. If I couldn't find a pine to plant, I could at least visit some with whom I had a shared history. 


At the intersection of those two roads in front of the home of Punchy and Betsy Walters is a row of magnificent pines that may have been planted by photographer O.N, Pruitt, who lived there when I was a 6-year-old paperboy. I had 11 customers on a route that began with the Pruitts and ended with Ray and Dai Waters and Lynn and Nancy Smith. In those days, that part of town felt like the edge of civilization. 


Along our property line at the edge of Chickasaw, my grandma Eunice planted a row of pines for privacy, though in those days privacy was hardly a concern. Like those in the Walters' yard, the surviving pines in front of the family home are magnificent. Fifty years ago there were more of them, and they were so close together we could jump from tree to tree like little Tarzans. The pines served as a refuge from the neighborhood bully, who fortunately was afraid of heights. 


At Lowe's I lucked into Steve and Kay Ellis and Ina Walters in the parking lot. Gardening, composting and predictors of spring were topics of the day -- "Thunder showers in February, frost in April," Ina said. And then she said something I didn't get about pecan trees being an unfailingly accurate predictor of spring. Back at home I learned on the Internet that pecans never bud out until danger of frost is past. 


If you happen to know the size of a squirrel's ear and have access to a white oak, you have a surefire way of knowing when to plant corn. 


"I use the Indian method of spring indicators," wrote one Internet prognosticator. "You know it's time to plant corn when the white oak leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear. I've never gone wrong planting corn at that time. It has frosted after the oak leaves are that size, but it has never hurt the little plants in my experience." 


If you look around town, you'll see pines everywhere. Coming out of Caty Hills at Military, there's a nice stand of them. Neighbor Pat Alexander has a stately pine in her front yard on South Eighth Street. 


Pam Wayman, a forester who has worked for Weyerhaeuser for more than 30 years, monitors by computer just under a million acres of timberland that stretches across north Mississippi into south Alabama. (The company manages more than 20 million acres of timberland in North America.) 


Pam has worked as a timber cruiser, in-the-field forester and has traveled extensively for her company; she describes her position as an inventory forester. 


"When the mill says I need wood, we find it and notify the forester," says Wayman. 


Trees are usually thinned at 15 years and harvested around 30, she says. 


Weyerhaeuser grows pine seedlings in their own nurseries and buys from others. According to their website, Weyerhaeuser does not use genetically modified plants. 


" ... we use the traditional techniques of selection and cross-pollination to produce seeds that grow superior trees," says the website." 


Never mind millions of acres of pines, if I could only find one. 


When I do, I'm going to try to remember the advice Pam offered as we ended our conversation: "Remember, brown end down, green end up," she said.



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