The language of trees has always intrigued me, largely because it requires a studied patience. For one thing, not all big trees are old and not all old trees are big. Such is the case of one very old red spruce tree that shares a juniper shrub and blueberry knoll in the Camden Hills with a wolfy white pine. I sat down on the sofa-sized roots of the pine to consider the spruce, which is about 40 feet tall and nearly two feet thick at the base, its trunk tapering upward like a candle.

The spruce is quite dead.

It's an old tree - in the 200-plus age range, according to my consulting forester - so it's easy to see the whorls of branches from its base to its tip. As a youngster, it grew in a sunny opening for the first decade, its branches spaced far apart on the bottom part of the trunk. Then other trees overtopped it, putting it in the shade where it continued growing slowly for the better part of a century, with its branches growing so close together that the middle of the tree looks like bristles on a round hairbrush.

Then there was a fire, perhaps an intentional one to clear out top of the ridge. It took out the trees that were shading the spruce and opened up the ridgetop to give the blueberries and juniper shrubs an edge. The spruce surged upwards in the new sunshine, its whorls of limbs now spaced farther apart as it put on more height and girth each year than it had in decades.

Trees seem to live forever, but they, too, have life-spans. This grandfather has reached its end and a pileated woodpecker is chiseling long straight holes at the base of its trunk, foraging for insects and larvae. Pileated woodpeckers are persistent birds. It will be back to excavate new holes, undermining the trunk. By winter's end, the big spruce is likely to fall.

Next week: Christine Parrish visits Camp Solitude and reports back.