New England is covered in forest today, but it’s a different forest than the one that greeted the first settlers to the region. Back then old growth trees dominated the landscape. And the tallest of these trees were the white pines.
White pines were tall and straight and thus highly attractive for ship masts. Surveyors went through the forests of New England and marked the best of these trees with an arrow slash to designate that the tree was the property of the king.
The high demand for masts for the British Navy depleted the old growth pine forests of New England by the 1770’s, right about when the colonists were beginning to rebel against the Intolerable Acts that would permanently separate the American Colonies from Great Britain. This didn’t mean a reprieve for the white pines, as the shipbuilding market shifted focus from the British Navy to merchants ships.
The forests have grown back, but it would be fascinating to time machine back to 1500 AD to see what New England looked like then. If you get deep into the woods on a quiet morning, you can hear the wind blow through the white pine needles. It’s not hard to imagine the call of the sea from this sound.