Pain by numbers: The beauty of life in a dense forest

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJanuary 2, 2014 


Maybe we should have been paying closer attention.

The term "Sea Pines" should have been a dead giveaway.

That lyrical name of Hilton Head Island's earliest resort gave us visions of crisp sea breezes tussling our hair pieces, blowing kisses into our new lives by the sea.

We thought of pines whispering the secrets of serenity to those lucky enough to stand beneath their gentle sway.

We leaped like fawns into this magic world.

And, just like that, we took up life in a dense forest.

We moved to an island where pines and laurel oaks are considered more valuable than such silly little things as homes and cars.

Now we trek through the darkened woodlands of our front yards, competing with moles for a clear space to land our boots.

We are reminded of high school essays on Henry David Thoreau. And for fleeting moments, we scowl at his words: "Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it."

Maybe that's what we need: Moose to trample the squirrels.

But as it is, we spend the days of our lives trying to keep from being buried alive by the year-round outpouring of stuff from pine trees.

I just met an otherwise perfectly sane man who now counts each pine cone as he picks it up in his Hilton Head Plantation yard.

From Oct. 12 to the end of the year, Wil Muller picked up 4,830 pine cones from his full-sized lot in The Headlands neighborhood.

Last year's total was closer to 4,000 pine cones.

After 17 years in the Lowcountry, the monotony of picking up pine cone after pine cone after pine cone fueled Wil's curiosity.

It occurred to him, after filling another bag of pine cones to be turned into mulch, that if he were to count them all, nobody would believe him.

Thus, the retiree from the comptroller's department of a major insurance company became a Lowcountry pine nut. He began jotting down numbers on a calendar in the garage. He penciled in the number of pine cones snatched up that day with his trigger-action gripper tool.

"I did that to amuse myself when I was walking around the yard," he said.

He and his wife, Carol, also have amused themselves by watching birds flit around their feeders. And by trying to walk home in the pitch dark if they stay past dusk at a neighbor's house.

It's a life in the woods that even Thoreau might appreciate. The Mullers like it so much that "lovehhi" is their email handle.

In part, this love is because they appreciate trees. Wil has even planted a maple in his yard like the ones of his boyhood in New Jersey.

And there is one other thing that's most attractive about the pine cones, all 4,830 of them.

They sure beat snow.

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