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Sixty-Something: My Lifelong Appreciation Of Pine Trees

T.J. Clemente

The author in the "Bois du Bouchet" in Chamonix. (Photo: Cindi Sansone-Braff)

When I first came to the Hamptons during my first two years, I stayed in a home in the Northwest Woods section of East Hampton. That section of the Town of East Hampton is loaded with wonderful wild tall pine trees. Many times, to this day, while driving there I feel like I am in Maine. As far as I can remember, I have always loved pine trees. I can always recall the sweet smell of a fresh cut Christmas tree. There are about 125 different types of pine trees - with 49 species native to North America. My favorite is the blue spruce, probably because my mom loved them. She used to insist we have one for our family Christmas tree. However, I prefer the traditional scots pine for a Christmas tree.

Going way back to my single digits, I remember the huge wall of blue spruce trees in our back yard separating our home from the Levander's. I would go under them and stand on the pine needles and collect the cones. The fragrance was that sublime pine scent so many air sprays imitate. My love of all things pine trees has taken me to many different places. My favorite place for pine trees is in Northern California where the giant redwoods are. They are natural monuments to the highest majesty of all things trees. I also enjoy skiing in Colorado around those wonderful Aspen pines. I went to Sequoia National Park and saw those ancient trees. When I read about those California forest fires, I cringe. Anyone who ever walked those forests would.

At the Killington Ski Area there is a long trail that traverses almost the whole area called the Great Eastern. I am pretty sure it was my first real trail experience skiing. To this day, my favorite section is the few hundred yards through the pines very near the bottom. The scent of those pines while gliding on skis is heaven on earth. Skiing through the high pines of the oldest eastern ski areas like Stowe or Pico is skiing past pine tree royalty, especially when the trees are coated with fresh snow powder blowing off in the wind.

Now that I am sixty-seven, I am cross-country skiing now more than ever, mostly with my wife and mostly on Long Island in Wertheim Wildlife Preserve, which is very near our home. Within minutes after a snowfall, we are on the trails making fresh tracks. Sadly, in recent years a beetle situation has killed so many of the pines there. It broke my heart watching the park being cleared of dead pine trees. Many on the East End know exactly what I am talking about.

We all have a very special winter place. A place where we can go and recharge our batteries, relax or recreate to remove ourselves from the patterns of everyday life. Since 1979, mine has been in Chamonix, France. I have spent time there almost half of the winters of my adult life. The forest below the high glaciers and huge aiguille rock towers consists of fir trees, spruce trees and larches. Cross-country skiing through them for miles with my wife Cindi on one special day in a slight snowfall was one of those forever life memories. Everything was perfect, the sun was out, yet it was snowing just enough to put down a blanket of fresh snow constantly for the hours we toured the terrain of the famous "Bois du Bouchet," surrounded by a wall of huge snow-covered pine trees along the trail. (Interesting note: Cindi's mother, Sylvia, was 100 percent Finnish and her last name was "Petaja" - that translates to "a large lone pine tree.")

Lastly, I want to go back in time to the late 1960's and Hutchinson Island on the Atlantic Coast of Central Florida - between Fort Pierce and Stuart, Florida. Back then the beach was pristine (now there are many condo towers and private homes) and there was a line of "Sand Pines" - as the name suggests, the sand pine is a pine tree that grows in very sandy nutrient-poor soils. I can remember using the shade of the extending pine branches to temper my teenage suntanning. The slight shade, along with the ocean breeze, was tremendous.

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