The clean, crisp, fresh, familiar scent of pine, from long and short needles gathered and bundled to be scattered on shop and café floors, is an aroma found year-around in Guatemala businesses and homes. This month more than ever, pine forms a large part of the rich odors of the Lenten season. Before the scores of processions wind through cobbled streets, pine needles are spread to soften the marchers’ tread. Needles are often a base for the alfombras, the intricate carpets of flowers and sawdust, or lovingly placed in green rectangles as a simple adoration before the passing saints.
The delicate scent of carpet needles is overpowered by smoke in the processions.Pine resins are concentrated into hard balls of pom, pitch, providing the heavy smudge from incense burners swung vigorously in front of the processions. You will smell it again when you next undress, your clothing saturated with the pine incense.
And taste pine. Those who head to the hills to gather needles and resins also pick up cones that yield nuts, roasted and munched alone or mixed into salads, stews and other flavorful dishes.
Want to paint? Artists need scores of shades on the palette to properly paint the trees of Highland forests or pine products in the processions. Green pine needles, golden pine pitch, light brown pine nuts, coffee colored pine bark, scores of shades are necessary to picture pine.
Pine is the most common tree in the world, we’re told by arborists, with more than 100 species on six continents. Two varieties are native to Guatemala and Central America, the long-needled Montezuma Pine and the somewhat shorter needles of Honduras Pine, the national tree of our neighboring country. Recent studies suggest both varieties developed many millennia ago in the Cuchumatanes mountains of Guatemala, then spread north into Mexico and south to Nicaragua, but we won’t let our Honduran friends down by telling them where their national tree originated.
Pine scents, pine shades, pine nut taste, the sticky touch of pine pitch, soft needles underfoot, pine easily reaches four out of five senses. Add sound, the crackle of pine logs in a fireplace, and pine is a delight for all our senses.