Volunteers Build a Shingled Wooden Hut to Promote Co-Working in Nature

Dotting mountains, hills, valleys and meadows across Europe, tiny cabins invite the public to get comfortable and enjoy the natural scenery. Most of these structures are simple wooden huts providing basic shelter to hikers, skiers and other adventurers braving remote environments, but others are easier to reach. In the Old Village of Armenis in Romania, a shingled wooden cabin called the Muma Hut has become the prototype for a planned set of cottages that encourage co-working in nature.

The process of building the Muma Hut was just as important as the result. A local ranger named Danu dreamed of rebuilding his childhood treehouse, and architect Miodrag Stoioanov wanted to help. Their creation supports a WWF initiative to re-wild the area, where around 80 bison were recently reintroduced, and boost ecotourism in the region. The Muma Hut is an example of what nature-driven sustainable development can look like in wild places like these. 

Over several weekends between May and August 2020, a group of local volunteers came together to bring the Muma Hut to life. Not only did this design-build workshop result in the completion of the project, it helped teach the volunteers crucial building skills that have faltered alongside the tradition of collectively raising homes in the community. 

“The hut aims to be an example of shape – an ‘orchard room’ and the materials used, which are purchased from the area to revitalize traditional practices. Wood was used for the structure/enclosures as well as shingles, made locally by the nephew of an old craftsman. The locals provided food and transport for the volunteers, giving them a taste of traditions. “

This particular hut features beds and a lounging area for visitors who want to take in the idyllic landscape, and will serve as a model for additional WeWilder cabins in the future.

Pine Needles Transformed Into Sustainable Accessories

In forests that aren’t actively managed, dry pine needles can accumulate to the point of becoming a wildfire hazard. But there are all kinds of uses for this biodegradable material, from mulch to livestock bedding, and one designer has even found a way to turn them into stylish home accessories. Guarav MK Wali’s “Cheer Project” separates the fiber of the pine needles and binds them with resin, waxes and natural dyes to produce a 100% bio-based material that can be molded into items like cups and trays.

recycled pine needle material sustainable

“It has been an experiment to understand the root of a local material and its potential and possibilities in an ever-increasing demand for alternatives for the production of sustainable objects,” says the designer. “The ultimate concept rested on the fusion of local craftsmanship and sustainable utilization of a naturally abundant novel material; the rediscovery of the pine needle.”

recycled pine needle stages

Wali came up with the idea after frequent forest fires caused serious damage to the northern region one India, which is home to an abundance of pine trees. His zero-waste process uses a shredder built with open-source plans by Precious Plastic and can be mimicked by just about anyone who wants to try it for themselves. The designer now holds artisan training workshops for women to teach them how to make objects with the material, generating new household income.

recycled pine needle process

“It seeks to reinvent the way we perceive pine needles to provide a solution for these complex and interrelated problems. A new way of thinking that tackles the plurality of the situation with a holistic approach. A system of production processes, products and sustainable functioning that gives momentum to pine needle as a revolution that empowers the local communities and provides them with economic sustenance, while providing an alternative to plastic in these environmentally tragic times.”

recycled pine needle objects

“The principles upon which the model works was not the confrontation of humans and nature, but their assimilation. Where human progress is enhanced by nature, kindling a symbiotic relationship between humans and nature that we seem to have forgotten with time.”

How to Identify an Eastern White Pine Tree in the Landscape

The noble Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) is a historic tree, providing the basis for countless timber-frame structures and Colonial homes throughout New England and the world over the past few centuries. It’s also a beloved Christmas tree and feature in the landscape. Here in Maine, it often grows up to 130 feet tall and four feet in diameter, and can be found virtually anywhere you look. But if you aren’t an Eastern White Pine aficionado, you might not know how to tell it apart from other pines.

Whether sprouting up in the wild or growing in commercial timberlands, the Eastern White Pine tree stands tall and proud with an extraordinarily long, straight trunk. Taller trees often have branches that reach above the forest canopy, the highest ones swept upward. In fact, many older Eastern White Pines are asymmetrical due to their exposure to the wind.

Eastern White Pine needles via Adirondack Nature

From afar, the bluish-green needles on its horizontal, parallel branches often have a feathery appearance. Get in close and you’ll see that these long, thin needles grow five to a cluster, each one three to five inches long. Touch them and they’ll be soft and flexible. In contrast, Red Pine and Jack Pine needles come in bundles of two, and Pitch Pine in bundles of three. White pines also lose all but the current year’s needles each year in fall.

Eastern White Pine cones

Want to determine the approximate age of an Eastern White Pine in the landscape? For each year the tree is alive, it grows a single whorl of branches from its trunk, just below the terminal bud at the very top. Count them and you’ll get an idea, looking for signs of lower branches that have been shaded out and fallen off over time. 

Eastern White Pine bark

The bark on a young Eastern White Pine tree looks smooth and greenish-gray, while mature trees begin to develop a reddish brown tone and layers of scales forming ridges that are broken into irregular shapes. The pine cones are longer and thinner than those of other pines that grow in this region. They gradually taper, and their scales aren’t sharp and prickly. 

The parts of the Eastern White Pine tree have many uses, starting, of course, with lumber. The United States lumber industry was founded on this special tree, which is prized for its lightness, workability, straightness and the fact that it shrinks and swells very little. Its needles are high in vitamin C, so they’re often steeped like tea. New shoots can be peeled and candied, and the sap is naturally antibacterial. Peel the nuts out of the pine cone for a crunchy snack high in fat and protein. You can even make flour from the bark. Check out more info in the articles below!

Winter Walks: Where to Find Maine’s Most Impressive Eastern White Pines

moosehorn

Maine’s state tree is a real beauty year-round, but the Eastern White Pine really shines in winter, holding onto its evergreen needles even when many of its neighbors are bare. It’s easy to see why it’s such a popular choice as a Christmas tree, with its classic conifer shape and full, bushy limbs. It’s an important part of local ecosystems, too, providing food and shelter for a wide variety of species during even the harshest winters. It might be cold outside, but it’s still a lovely time to take a brisk walk and enjoy the sights and smells of these beautiful trees, which grow all over the state.

Nobody is really keeping official tabs on the tallest trees in Maine; state officials maintain a registry of big trees, but it’s not updated very often, and residents submit their own reports to add to it. But it does note the existence of an impressive Eastern White Pine standing 120 feet tall with a circumference of 245 inches and a crown spread of 80 feet located in Morrill, last measured in 2008. This one was nominated for ’national champion’ of big trees.

Many others measuring over 100 feet tall have been celebrated as champion trees in various counties, like a 108-foot Big Tree Contest winner in Sumner. According to the Monumental Trees database, there’s a particularly beautiful specimen located across from the 5 Lakes Lodge in Millinocket, but its height and official girth are unknown.

Of course, Eastern White Pines can be found all over Maine, which provides plenty of fertile, well-drained soil to help the species thrive, not to mention a historic lumber industry maintaining sustainably managed pine forests. The state notes Bearce Lake in the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, Bigelow Preserve Public Lands, Chamberlain Lake Public Lands, Gero Island Public Lands and the Scientific Forest Management Area of Baxter State as prime conservation lands brimming with beautiful white pines.

But if you want to see the tallest Eastern White Pines the East Coast has to offer, you’ll have to venture outside the state a little bit. Pennsylvania’s Cook Forest State Park is home to 110 Eastern White Pines measuring 148 feet or taller, including an incredible ‘Longfellow Pine’ reaching 183 feet 7 inches into the sky. The tallest one of all, the ‘Boogerman Pine,’ is a bit further afield in the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, reaching an amazing 207 feet.

Image of Bearce Lake via the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Eastern White Pine Hailed as an Ideal Tree to Give Birds a Winter Haven

bald eagle eastern white pine

46 species of birds use the Eastern White Pine tree for either food, cover or nesting, making it one of the most beneficial trees for birds. That’s according to a book by Richard M. DeGraaf called ‘Trees, Shrubs and Vines for Attracting Birds,’published by the University Press of New England. Gardening columnist Henry Homeyer has been testing this out himself since the ‘70s, and confirms that the trees are beloved by a beautiful variety of birds, including blue jays, in a recently published piece at the Providence Journal.

“I dug up half a dozen small evergreens, including a 5-foot-tall white pine seedling in the summer of 1972,” says Homeyer. “All were ‘volunteers’ growing in a meadow near my house. They have done well, growing to mature size and blocking the view of my backyard from the road. According to the list of birds using white pine, the seeds are the favorite food of the northern bobwhite, red-bellied woodpecker and spruce grouse – none of which I have seen in it.”

“But it is also a favorite for some of my good bird buddies – black-capped chickadee, nuthatches, northern cardinal and juncos. They go from the bird feeder on my deck to the pine and back, and enjoy resting out of the wind and away from Winnie and Sammy, my two resident cats.”

Homeyer has some tips for growing your own white pines to see them grow as tall as his own bird-sheltering tree, including planting them away from roads to avoid damage from road salt. Check it out over at the Providence Journal website.

Photo of a bald eagle in an Eastern White Pine tree via Wikimedia Commons

Forest Facts: Sustainable Forestry Initiative Helps Protect Migratory Birds

Sustainable Forestry Protects Birds

Sustainable forestry practices help preserve the habitats of countless species of plants and wildlife, and a new program supported by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) aims to boost that effect even more with detailed maps of breeding bird species. Bird enthusiasts and biologists are joining together to gather information that will help manage and conserve bird habitats in forests that are used for recreational, industrial and research purposes.

Bird Studies Canada and its partners have teamed up with SFI to develop a series of Breeding Bird Atlases showing where hundreds of bird species breed within particular regions of Canada. Bird lovers have taken part in the process by volunteering their time to collect data across each region over a five-year period. About 1.3 million breeding bird records have been collected.

“As wild birds are excellent indicators of environmental health, this research plays a pivotal role in how Canada’s bird populations may be affected by a variety of factors in our forests,” said Kathy Abusow, President and CEO of SFI, Inc. “For one, the results of this research will provide updated information for forest managers related to bird habitat, which can better inform forest management decisions and practices.”

Sustainable forestry protects birds and other wildlife with a multi-step process of evaluation, management and regeneration that ensures that tree removal won’t harm the ecosystem and will allow for a continued harvest in the future. Learn more about the differences between sustainable and traditional forestry.