In September in the Rockies it’s the aspen trees that capture our attention. Their broad sweeps of brilliant color brighten our hearts. But this fall as you enjoy the aspen, also pay attention to another majestic tree that often grows right beside the aspen groves: the Ponderosa pine.
Every time I hike the campground trail or East Creek trail, I marvel at the Ponderosas that stand as tall sentinels along those trails. Ponderosas can live for more than 300 years, so even back in the Osgood era those giants probably looked much the same as they do now. But their longevity isn’t their greatest feature.
For the Native Americans, the Ponderosa, like the buffalo, was a “general store” of essential supplies. They used the wood for posts and general construction, and to make snowshoes. Large logs could be made into dugout canoes. The seeds had nutritional value, and they used the sap as adhesive and waterproofing for canoes, baskets and tents. They also had uses for every other part of the tree, including the roots. But even all the products the Ponderosa provides aren’t its highest value.
To historians, the Ponderosa pine is the primary species used for dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating. It offers us a very clear record of climate patterns. In wet years its rings are wide; in dry years they’re narrow. The ring patterns in the Ponderosa roof beams of cliff dwellings and other Indian ruins allow archaeologists to precisely date their construction. But even that isn’t the best the Ponderosa has to offer.
The Ponderosa’s greatest value is in its seeds. Its purple winged seeds get carried a short distance by wind, and then even further by small rodents and birds that treasure them as food. But the seeds don’t sprout easily. Specifically they require a large amount of sunlight. That means they lie dormant until a wildfire has cleared the landscape. Because of that, Ponderosas have a unique and essential role in the rapid recovery of a forest after a fire.
When you’re hiking you probably see the Ponderosa as a beautiful and useful tree. But its greatest lies beyond your vision in the next generation. In what ways are you allowing God to work through you to be a blessing to the next generation?