Pine Needle Tea

The pine forest in the Guilford woods is not obvious. To get there, you can take a few trails. Go at the entrance with the gate, or try the Underground Railroad entrance. You might not find it right away. You may need a hand from a friend. Cross the water, but careful not to slip on the rocks.

If you do slip, your feet may sink entirely into the mud. Find a friend with a hose. It’ll work better than cleaning them in your bathtub.

I first visited the pine forest during the summer. Immediately upon being surrounded by the trees, the air feels cooler. The friend who showed it to me, Theo, said it was because of the wind trapped in the trees. I don’t know how their branches hold the wind, release it gently, but it makes it the perfect place for hanging out in the heat of a NC summer.

The pine trees I see have fragile bark; they seem soft, and when we hang up hammocks, much of it peels off. I feel bad, wondering how much damage I’m doing to the trees, seeing bits of bark fall to the ground. It reminds me of working at summer camp, where we had a weekly ceremony: kids would find pieces of bark on the ground — we emphasized that they could not peel the park off the trees — and we’d put a birthday candle on them. We call these baby boats. Together, we all sat on the dock on the river. We light one candle, passed from person to person, then everyone places their baby boats in the water, and we sing songs about loneliness and trees and camp friendships that will never die, though we know deep down we’re never going to keep that penpal relationship with Katie for very long. This ritual is important to the camp; it’s a tradition that feels like a beautiful closing of a week. But at what cost environmentally? Are we all destroying the earth, bit by bit, in the name of sentimentality? What am I doing now as I put up my hammock and bark peels off?

Sometimes what we think is the most harmful to trees is not, in actuality, always the most harmful. A website told me that drilling hooks into trees can be better for the tree when hanging hammocks. I don’t want to drill into a tree; it feels more permanent, more invasive. I don’t know what this means about me.

My friend Josie lays on an eno in the pine woods.

At camp, the pine trees were a way of knowing we were in a temporary home, because you could smell the pine at all times. If you make pine needle tea, it will give you vitamin C. I told this to all of the campers I lead. I never have tried it myself. I want to, and I think about it, and yet I resist. I resist the taking of the needles out of the woods, into a house with a tea kettle. I resist the urge to build a fire, right there, boil some water, and drink some pine needle tea. I don’t want to ruin what I’ve imagined it tastes like. I like to imagine it tastes like the feelings I had at camp. Like it’s the same as the feelings I have, now, in the woods, looking around. The smell of pine, the coolness of the air. I don’t know why I still resist.

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