Pine trees.  Nothing is more synonymous to “mountains” than a pine tree.  In fact, when people wax on about how much they love the mountains, they invariably mention the smell of the pines.  I think that’s why I still purchase live Christmas trees as opposed to a fake one, the smell.

I love the smell of pine trees so much that I even like the smell of pine-sol.  It’s a good thing, too, because when I was in the Marine Corps Pine-Sol was the cleanser we used on every surface.  In boot camp we would somehow get in trouble and be forced to clean our shower area.  The area was probably 20’x20’ but all 70 of us would cram in there with our scrub brushes; the DI would turn the hot water on in the shower and get it all steamy.  Then he’d indiscriminately spread the pine-sol.

Some of us would be crammed up against the walls while others were stuffed into whatever space they could get to while on their knees.  We’d be scrubbing away and the DI would scream “SCRUB, SCRUB, SCRUB!”, we’d reply “SCRUB, SCRUB, SCRUB, AYE AYE SIR!!”.

That’s how we cleaned our entire squad bay and bathroom & shower area once a week.

I still love the smell of Pine-Sol.

But I love the smell of real pine trees even more.  One of my favorite pine trees is the Ponderosa Pine.  This single species is solely responsible for the founding of Flagstaff.  Way back when, before microwaves and telephones “they” were building a railroad.  As the tracks were laid the workers would move their existence along as they went.  Occasionally a town would grow enough to take hold.

Flagstaff was one of those towns.  As the construction came by the San Francisco Peaks some smart guys realized that the surrounding forest was perfect for a crucial natural resource…wood.  That wood was the Ponderosa Pine.  On July 4, 1876 the lumberjacks stripped a huge pine of its branches and ran Old Glory up.  They named the settlement…well, Flagstaff.

The pine tree is also known as the Bull Pine, the Blackjack Pine (on account of its black bark when young) and the Western Yellow Pine.  Older trees take on a copper/black bark that splits, and is layered, almost like someone stacked a bunch of puzzle pieces together.  The bark acts as a fire retardant.  When a forest fire comes through, the outer strata take the heat and burn, but protecting the layers below.  

One of my favorite features of the Ponderosa is the smell of the bark.  Some of you know about this, hopefully some of you will discover this is true.  But the next time you’re in a Ponderosa Pine Forest when it’s warm, pick a large, copper-ish healthy tree and head to the side that’s in the sun.  Stick your nose right up in there like you’re trying to breathe only tree.

It will smell like butterscotch or vanilla.  Some might think it smells like cinnamon or coconut.

I happen to be camping north of Flagstaff staying out of the end-of-times heat that The Valley of the Sun is about to endure.  I have this small pine tree right outside my door.  It says hello to me every single I day.  This is the time of year when it apparently starts to set its cones.  Ponderosa pine regenerates by seed, with cones maturing in a two-year cycle. The tree flowers from April to June of the first year, and cones mature and shed seeds in August and September of the second year. Seeds are relatively small (7,000 to 23,000 in one pound) and fall only about 100 feet from the parent tree.

One of my favorite features of pine trees is that when they fall and are left to decay, the abundant sap sinks toward the core of the trunk.  Over time, as the outer layers of woo fall away, you might find this core of sap-soaked wood.  It is called Fatwood and it’s great for starting fires.  

Collect a decent sized chunk; when you want to start a fire just scrape some “sawdust” onto a hard surface.  Once you have a thimble-sized pile, pinch it to compress it; you can then move it onto a dry flammable pile of something…we call that “duff”.  Take your ferrocerium rod and get to sparking.  The 3000 degree sparks will catch the fatwood on fire, and in turn it’ll ignite your small bundle.  Carefully transfer this to your waiting pile of small twigs, etc, and voila!

As I write this there is a heat-wave and high-pressure system moving through Arizona.  In Phoenix, they’re predicting temperatures over 120 for next week.  The news stations in the high country are also in a panic…it’s supposedly going to set some records in Flagstaff, hitting 95 or higher.

My point forecast for the coming week is telling me that it’s going to be a blistering 87F.  I don’t know how the pioneers ever survived this, what with crappy digital reception, being hunted by Apaches and their famous wooden underwear.

I’ll do my best.  You can bet that I’ll be huffing pine bark though.

See you outside.

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