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“Letter to the Person Who Carved His Initials into the Oldest Living Longleaf Pine in North America”

a drawing of a longleaf pine

That’s the title of a poem by Matthew Olzmann. It begins:

Tell me what it’s like to live without
curiosity, without awe. To sail
on clear water, rolling your eyes
at the kelp reefs swaying
beneath you, ignoring the flicker
of mermaid scales in the mist,
looking at the world and feeling
only boredom.

You can read the rest at Tin House.

From Lacy M. Johnson in Orion Magazine, The Brutal Legacy of the Longleaf Pine:

The oldest longleaf pine tree in the world, I remember, is a nameless tree in Weymouth Woods in North Carolina. It is roughly 474 years old, taking root around the time Michelangelo took over construction of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, fifty-nine years before European colonizers arrived at Jamestown. In 2016, when the tree turned 468, visitors to the North Carolina State Parks system held a “Party for the Pine.” They celebrated by hiking to the tree, cutting cake, singing it “Happy Birthday.”

Illustration above of a longleaf pine by Edith Zimmerman.

Discussion  6 comments

Neel Master

I don't want to be needlesly provocative, but I've seen this all over and I've always really disliked it.

Marking something is a form of engagement. Look at graffiti.

The poem, which accuses incuriosity, strikes me as incurious itself -- assuming the worst of a person the narrator hasn't met.

Of course, maybe the poet is being ironic and is aware of this tension! I guess I should follow my curiosity and find a way to ask him...

Chris Frampton

Neel, that's such a good perspective. Really. It's true that I want people to have the curiosity eloquently described in the poem. It's also true that accusing them of not having it is a form of not having it myself, and, oh, the humanity!

I'll admit, though, that the best part of this post was the discovery of Tin House. What an amazing site!

Lorem Ipsum

Do they have any leads on the identity of the vandal? Maybe beginning of their first and last name?

Jason KottkeMOD

Punching someone in the face is a form of communication too. 🤷‍♂️

And it's not at all a stretch for a poet (who is free to make up any story he wants) to imagine that someone who would carve their initials into a venerable tree may not be thinking about anything but themselves.

Jason KottkeMOD

Or closer to the topic at hand, chopping down a tree is a form of engagement? I'm not sure we're being incurious for thinking these two guys are assholes for doing so. (See also the Broccoli Tree.)

Durian Schmell

I’m curious as to how someone could be that big of an asshole to carve their initials on the oldest long leaf pine. That’s about where my curiosity ends.

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