Jack Rajala, savior of white pine, dead at 77

There's a big reason why white pine trees made a comeback in northern Minnesota.

It's Jack Rajala, the lumberman who planted more than 3 million of them, and went to the trouble of stapling cardboard to the buds to keep the white-tailed deer from finishing them off.

He died this morning after battling brain cancer, the Duluth News Tribune reports. He was 77.

He was surrounded by family and white pine, Aaron J. Brown writes this afternoon in a wonderfully touching memorial.

Opinionated, like most loggers, Jack was one of the few who could change his mind. Even as many in his political circles denied climate change, he could see it for himself.

He touched it with his hands, and recorded it in the rings of tree stumps. But believing that climate change was real wasn't good enough; he had to do something.

So he planted trees.

You might think of planting a tree as an Arbor Day exercise, a little red wagon filled with saplings. Jack planted trees by the tens of thousands, 3.5 million in all. His commitment didn't stop there. He also spent thousands of hours protecting those seedlings as they grew into viable trees.

"It was a good death," Allison Rajala Ahcan wrote on his Caring Bridge site's journal.

Jack fought his cancer -- hard, in true Bigfork Husky fashion. He was doing his exercises, taking his meds, going to radiation through Friday. We were reading Boys in the Boat, loaned to us by the Starks.

He was directing us on the best way to get to Hibbing for treatment. He was praying intensively for himself and others. And he documented every stand of timber that had been in his care on a monster spreadsheet in his famous left-handed, arthritic script.

We won't know if it was swelling or tumor, but changes started coming suddenly just a week ago. Words were no longer possible, His right leg no longer worked. And, yet, he guided and engaged us with his beautiful blue eyes, his laugh and sometimes a vigorous head nod.

He was ours until the very end, and we had beautiful, intentional time to say thank you, we love you, and we'll see you soon -- frankly, a luxury for a family rocked with too many sudden deaths.

"When's the best time to plant a tree?" Rajala would often say. "Yesterday."

"Second best?"


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