Pine Trees and Gravel Roads
This story, written in 2023, is from my third book Wind in the Pines.
They’ve clearcut a large swath of pine forest adjacent to the home I grew up in at the dead-end road where my parents live.
A Clear Cut is always sad to me. This one removed the thick strands of pines about forty feet high.
A remember the day these pines were planted. I was a pre-teener and a helicopter landed on our road during the planting process.
But this seventy-three-acre tract of tall swaying majestic pines is gone.
Every pine was harvested and an open field of stumps and weeds has now replaced the once stately trees. Now there is nothing but a stark moonscape of stumps and rotting limbs. Then as often happens with absentee landowners, once the trees were harvested the owners put the tract up for sale.
at the moonscape of the Clear Cut, I recall stories of my great-grandparents describing the virgin Longleaf pine forests of Beauregard Parish: “The trees were so tall and thick that all underbrush was crowded out. Each year after the undergrowth was burned, a thick new carpet of pine needles would blanket the ground. Even our wagons rolled along quietly under the cathedral of the tall pines.
I’m sure the new owners will be a timber company that will quickly plant pine seedlings renewing the cycle of life next to my childhood home.
This reminds me that in spite of the clear-cuts, new growth takes place, and old fields again become full of beautiful pines. This cycle of birth, growth, and eventually death is true in all areas of nature. It is a cycle that we cannot stop, or even control. Like the weather, we must adapt to it, fully knowing it has no intention of adapting to us.
I recall my Dad’s words after the Clear-Cut, Daddy was then about age fifty-five. He stated matter of factly, “Well, I know I’ll never see big pines in that field again.”
Whatever becomes of this new 2003 clear-cut, it will always remain a measuring stick for me. Because a few years after the Clear-Cut is when my father died. Looking out at the desolate and sad open field, I’m reminded of the barren spot in my heart due to the loss of this remarkable man I called “Daddy.”
In five years, ten years, or even twenty years, I’ll look at the growing pines in this field and remember that my dad’s death, in 2003, predated them. I know even when I am an old man if God gives me a long life, I’ll think about my dad when I see this field of pines. And I know I’ll still miss him, no matter how long it’s been or how tall the pines have grown.
I’ve heard so many men say, “My dad has been dead twenty-five years and I still miss him just as much as the day he died.” Or “My father’s been gone for three decades, and I still think about talking to him when I face a tough problem.”
No matter what happens to that field – whether it stays open until the Tallow trees and Myrtle bushes take over, is used as pasture for cattle, horses, or replanted in Slash pines, I’ll gauge the field by 2003– the year my dad died… at the same time the clear-cut occurred.
As I continue down Clayton Iles Road, there is another change I’m aware of. I’m now driving on a paved road. It is the one thing I wish Daddy could have lived to have seen – the paving of the road to his house. Who’d have thought this would ever happen? Last year, told of the pending paving. Daddy replied, “Well, I never thought I’d live to see the day our road was paved.”
…Well, he didn’t quite make it.
This newly paved road is special. It’s the road of my childhood – the road I learned to ride a bicycle on with Daddy running along beside me. It’s the same gravel road that became slick and nearly impassable during long rainy spells in winter. I remember once when our car slid off in the ditch just about where the clear-cut now ends. It was late at night and I awoke in the back seat to hear Mom and Dad talking, as we sat there hopelessly mired in the mud.
Daddy left and walked the half-mile to the house, returning with a wheelbarrow to bring Colleen and me to the house. He wrapped us in a blanket against the cold night air. Mom was pregnant with my youngest sister Claudia as she trudged along beside my dad who was pushing the wheelbarrow full of two preschoolers. What a strange sight we must have been in the darkness of this cold Dry Creek night.
I think about how my ancestors, who settled this homestead in the nineteenth century, would respond to a paved road right up to their house. They would probably not even recognize the trails they had once traveled on.
This paved road is the same gravel road where I would walk at night as a teenager, kicking rocks as I tried to figure out the mysteries of life and girls. It’s the same road I learned to drive a car on, trying to stay out of the ditches. This one-mile-long road that led to the homes of my parents and grandparents was where the world was simple and I knew I was always welcome.
Because it was a dead-end road with only the Iles clan at the end, the sound of an approaching vehicle always caused us to stop what we were doing and see what car or truck would round the curve. We knew the specific sounds of each family vehicle and could predict with pretty consistent accuracy who was driving up the road.
We always laughed, “If someone’s coming down our road, they are either coming to see us or lost.” Now, this road has been paved, the woods along the north roadside have been cut and my dad, who loved this road because of the people who lived at the end of it, is also gone.
Reaching The Old House, I walk through the silent rooms filled with empty chairs. I think about the traditional verses of “Will the Circle be Unbroken”:
You can picture the happy gatherings,
‘Round the fireside so long ago,
And you think of their departing,
When they left you here below.
In the joyous days of childhood
They often told of wondrous love
They pointed to the dying Savior,
Now they dwell with him above.
I go through the rooms where the double fireplaces are. Old weathered rocking chairs sit in front of the cold hearth. The armrests are worn and stained from use by the generations of my grandparents and great-grandparents. All of those loved ones are gone, but I remember them sitting in these rooms. I stop and recall each of them one by one – My precious grandmother, MaMa Pearl, who passed on a Godly heritage to me. Then I lovingly think of my maternal grandparents, who gave me that same heritage from their side.
. . . Now their chairs are all empty.
Now the first seat of that next generation is unoccupied. My dad’s seat is now empty. I think of my precious aunts and uncles and how I love all nine of them and hate to think of one day losing them. Each of them is so much more than just an aunt or uncle.
Then I recall the third verse of that old song:
One by one their seats were emptied…
One by one they all went away…
And the family is now parted,
Will it be complete one day?
Will the circle be unbroken?
Bye and bye Lord, bye and bye
There’s a better place awaiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky.
Then I remember that I have faith. A faith that tells me that this is not the end. A fresh story pops into my mind. I just heard it last week, but I know I’ll be telling it for the rest of my life:
A little girl was thrilled to find a bird nest in the bushes of her backyard. She ran to get her older brother to show him. Peering into the nest they saw six small blue speckled eggs.
The girl forgot about the nest for several weeks. Later, when she returned to the nest, she only found broken eggshells. Crying, she ran to find her brother. “The eggs are broken and there’s nothing there”
The older brother went with her to the nest. Seeing the empty eggshells, he told her,
“But Sissy, all that’s left are just pieces of the shells, you see, the best part has done taken wings and flown away.”
Then I recall the final verse of that old song:
When our loved ones who are in glory
Whose dear thoughts you often need
When you close your earthly story,
Will you join them in that place?
Then once again, I cherish that warm and precious gift God gives us – a memory of all of those good times, the good things, and best of all, those good people who affect
our lives … long after they’ve “taken wings and flown away.”
Yes, the joys of memory…
… visible in a clear-cut field,
… beside a paved road.
… Even in an old empty house.
An eternal heart full of family and memories, all found along this one-mile road… A special road – special because of the people who have lived at its end.
*“Whispering Pines” written by Johnny Horton.
*Will the Circle Be Unbroken” written by A.P. Carter (Public Domain)
This story is from the Curt Iles book, Wind in the Pines.