“Watching Trees Grow”. By Henry Regehr

Warm Spring days and tree planting at our beloved Whitepines of Northumberland Tree Farm went hand in hand. Visits to the Provincial forest station at Orono in rural Ontario was an annual ritual. We picked up our pre-ordered white pine, white spruce and black walnut seedlings on our way to the farm on Friday afternoons and the rest of the weekend would be spent planting them.  

Succulent bright green little trees, no longer than a hand, bare tiny bunches of roots, were ready for the soft warm soil. We did it together, dig, wiggle the spade, drop in the tender roots, step on the soft soil, move on the next spot, over and over. Hundreds of times each welcoming Spring. And then wait for them to grow, the trees much more patient than we.  

The first five thousand white pine and white spruce were planted by the Ministry of Natural Resources. We had qualified for the service, having more than five acres of suitable land. It had been a struggle. At first the local rep had reported that too much of the twenty-nine acres was covered by bush. With a bit of prodding, he discovered more open areas and the following Spring ten student planters arrived and enthusiastically spread across the fields and planted their tiny green seedlings. The rains came at the right time and the supervisor, on a later visit, found that ninety-five percent of them had survived. We were overjoyed, and immediately ordered several hundred trees for our planting the following year. It became a yearly rite. 

Year by year we watched as seedlings became saplings and the saplings matured and the young branches became stronger and fuller. Over the decades it became a forest, adding to the few large white pines that had grown since the land was denuded of mature trees at the turn of the nineteenth century. Setters had arrived, United Empire Loyalists, who cleared the land. 

Each family was given eighty acres of land. The agreement was that, in the first year, they had to build a log shanty (twenty feet by twelve) that was set on a dug hole. Two tiny windows and one door. The shanty was covered with white cedar logs and they, in turn, were covered in sod pieces. For winter, their few farm animals were brought into the lodging in order to help warm the family and to keep the livestock from freezing to death. It was a dark, crowded, and smelly living space. The term “cabin fever” grew out of these harsh, dreary living conditions. 

The second year, the settlers were required to build a log cabin, twenty feet by thirty feet. The logs were cut from their own land. 

It was our privilege to have, as or home, one of those log homes. It was now on a basement and fully rebuilt into a modern home. A shanty, having been repurposed over time as a smithy, a chicken coop, and pig pen, was rebuilt into a beautiful guest house with a loft where family and friends could stay. 

Over the years the trees became forests, and our next assignment was to clip off the lower dead branches to reduce the fire hazard and to make the forest into a place for walking. A bulldozer cut trails through the bush and around the forests and the little John Deere tractor groomed the trails into grass covered pathways. In winter we blazed trails through the soft, white snow. 

Through the years the trees became our friends, nurturing us as we had nurtured them in their infancy. When the time came that we could no longer manage Whitepines, the years have taken their toll, it was reluctantly that we put it up for sale. New owners now love the place and the trees. They watch the busy wildlife and set cameras in the forest to watch the animals as they make their nightly pilgrimage. On one occasion the camera caught the image of six deer at one time. Our forest has become home to singing birds and small animals too numerous to count. It is a wildlife sanctuary. 

We thought about putting brass plaque near the house: “These forests are not to be harvested before the year 2100” but it may not be necessary if the owners, over the decades, love the trees with as much passion. 

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