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The Pine Knot Pile: Earthly Treasures

The Pine Knot Pile: A Lesson on Earthly Treasures

All of a sudden, the February wind picked up and turned out of the south. Instantly what had been a small controlled fire in my back field became a raging monster.

The flames spread rapidly through the dead knee high grass – as fast I as I could, I ran ahead with my faithful firefighting weapon – a wet grass sack. But no one person, nor any wet sack, was going to curtail this fire. It seemed to have a malicious mind of its own as it raced northward.
DeDe and the boys came running out of the house. Armed with brooms, buckets, and a shovel, they ran to join me but were also driven back by the raging racing fire. All five of us knew exactly where the fire was going – right toward one of my most precious possessions: my pine knot pile.

Now before coming back to the fire, let me clue you in on what a pine knot pike is. Southwestern Louisiana was naturally populated with Yellow Pine, or as we now call it, Longleaf Pine. Every area of upland was covered with these slow-growing but stately pines. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, all of the virgin pine forests were clear-cut by large timber companies. Where huge tracts of pines had once towered only open fields of stumps now stood. The timber companies came in, cleared large areas for miles, and then moved on.

These Yellow Pines had many great qualities. Prime among them was the tree’s large heart, or inner core. This resiny heart, instead of rotting, turned into a rich, sappy wood. These remains of pine stumps were called “rich lighter” or “fat pine.”
Due to its thick rosin, lighter pine would burn easily and has always been the preferred method of starting fires in cook stoves and fireplaces for generations.
In the 1940’s, Crosby Chemical Company of Picayune, Mississippi moved into Beauregard Parish and began harvesting the remaining stumps for their turpentine mill.

Turpentine is the syrupy liquid in these pine stumps. It can be used for many commercial purposes. In addition to these industrial uses, country people gathered all of the rich pine they could for their personal use. Every older home had a large pine pile in the backyard or near the barn.
Every home proudly considered their pine supply a great prize. Fires were the method of keeping warm and cooking. During the winter a fire was usually burning in either the fireplace or cook stove around the clock. However, over the years as propane and electricity became part of our rural culture, cook stoves and cooking in the fireplace became lost arts.

In spite of these modern improvements, most people kept their fireplaces going. There is no substitute for sitting cozily by a popping and crackling fire as the cold wind moans and the rain blows against the house.

Because of the proliferation of fireplaces, nearly every country home continued to have a pine knot pile. When DeDe and I bought our Dry Creek home in 1985, I was excited to also inherit a huge pine knot pile in the corner of our back field. The land on which we now live had been a second growth forest until it was cleared for soybean farming in the 1960’s. This was during a time when the price of soybeans skyrocketed and many residents cut and cleared their pine forests to plant beans.

As they cleared the land I now live on, the pine stumps and knots were placed in an impressive pile in the corner of the field. This pile reached head high and was twenty feet wide.

I inherited this lifetime supply of pine when I purchased our home and the surrounding acreage. With pride I pointed this treasure pile out to my family and friends. I could feel the envy of men as they commented on this vast and valuable pile. There was enough here to easily last a lifetime and more. Starting a fire in our fireplace was easy with the pine splinters cut from these stumps.

I tried not to be completely selfish with this abundant supply. I shared wheelbarrow loads with my dad, family, and neighbors. Even after ten years of use, I hadn’t even made a good dent in my pine pile.

However, this hot runaway fire in my back field, started by me, was approaching my pine knot pile, and was going to make more than a dent in it. As suddenly as the brush fire got to the pine pile, it was completely engulfed in flames. The fire and thick choking black smoke billowed high into the sky.
If it’d been anything but my pine knot pile, it would have been enjoyable to watch …But it was my “lifetime supply” of pine literally going up in smoke as we stood and watched helplessly.

DeDe went inside and called the fire tower to inform them as to the source of the thick black smoke. The tower observer replied to her, “Ma’am, go easy on your husband; It’s a tough thing on a man to lose his pine knot pile.”

It had all happened so quickly and was over in a matter of minutes. There, where fifteen minutes earlier my huge pine knot pile had towered, was now only charred ashes and smoking chunks of wood.

I think back to my precious pine knot pile when I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 6. He reminds us that all earthly treasures someday will rust, corrode, rot, become moth-eaten, be discarded and abandoned, or as in my case – burn up.

When you see someone driving a new car off the sales lot, remember that one day the new and shiny car, will be junked, smashed, and melted down.

Jesus told us to hoard heavenly treasures – the things that really last: eternal things. The only things I’ve seen that really last are God’s word, His love, and people’s souls. :Therefore, that’s where our treasures should be.

Earthly treasures have their place, but we should never forget they are only temporary. Just like my pine knot pile, they can so quickly and unexpectedly leave us. However, the things of God are the only things that really matter – and they last forever.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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