One of the best things about getting older (and perhaps one of the worst as well) is the memories triggered by casual sights, sounds, scents and thoughts. So it is with the dead tree that now lies in my front lawn. It was the first white oak on the left as you looked at my house from the road. Like the other white oaks there, it added to the exterior ambiance of our “cabin” at the edge of the woods. I’ve stood often in its shade and listened to the sound of bird song and squirrel chatter. I will miss it. Its loss is compounded by knowing that I must part with two of its kin as well, since they insist on trying to thread limbs into my windows or under my roof shingles. At a younger age, I would have mounted my 20 foot extension ladder and kept the limbs in check. At my current age and weight, that doesn’t seem wise, so down they will go by winter’s end.
This tree was first was root-damaged, I imagine, when this place was partially timbered 40 years ago. A horrible drought about 25 years ago probably did it no favors. The forester at that time told me that trees would be dying for decades that were first weakened by that drought. During a couple cold, damp springs around five years ago, it suffered from anthracnose or some such thing from the new growth molding and mildewing away. Sawflies attacked two years running. Then, a couple summers ago, the place was timbered again. Sitting on the edge of the main log road as it does, I’m sure its roots were damaged once again.
I had made some effort to save the tree. I dosed it with small amounts of fertilizer and lime several times over the last few years, hoping to fortify it without over-stimulating it. I also had the dog use the area as her toilet for several months, hoping to give it a little “organic” fertilizer. Still, it started losing limbs near the top, epicormic sprouts appeared not on the trunk, but on the limbs, and this summer, beetles started drilling sawdust from the trunk, even though the remaining leaves were still green. Those leaves turned brown sometime in August. When I cut the tree down a couple weeks ago, the beetles had made it all the way to the heart of the 25 inch stump. I decided that there was no reason to contaminate any structure with infested lumber, so the tree is being made into firewood.
Forty years ago, our old sawmill still sat a few yards away, its shed a bit damaged by the equipment of a disreputable logger. The timber company who bought the timber had contracted him to extract any trees too big for our farm tractors to handle. I counted back the rings on the stump to learn that the tree was only about 10 inches diameter and 55 years old at the time. The now-open center of my lawn was inhabited by large chestnut oaks then. They had provided our little country log yard with shade and the squirrels with food for the 19 years or so that the sawmill was there. The big timber was taken out in the winter, though, and the contractor’s equipment damaged the big tree’s roots so badly that they began to decline. After I started my house in ’76 I had to cut one tree after another until the only trees remaining were those that been on the edge of the logyard. The white oak tree put on the extra 15 inches in the intervening years.
My wife asked if I couldn’t cut the big limbs reaching skyward first, so the mess wouldn’t look so ugly. Surprisingly, she accepted my explanation that doing so would put a lot a tripping-hazards on the ground, making my work less safe. I understand her concerns about appearances. Between rain, my being slightly under the weather and the fact that I am so miserably out-of-shape, the thing is only half worked up after two weeks. In my prime, I would have had the tree worked up, including the brush stacked, in probably five or six hours. Those days are long gone.
One face-cord of 20” wood is waiting to be sold, and I should have at least another. The stack reminds me of the days that we made most of our winter’s living selling firewood, and makes me wish that my own stove still had a good chimney. The tree-top points toward the location of the back of the old mill shed, to the right of the oak across the way in the photo. I’ll never forget the days I spent there sawing with my father—the rumble of the old ‘47 U-9 in my ears and the acrid scent of sawdust in my nostrils.
Then too, the rings on the stump remind me of time’s relentless march onward. I never thought, back then, that my life would turn out as it has. There have been many disappointments along the way, but many pleasures as well. Having no kids of my own was hurtful, but I never thought about inheriting the five grandkids I now have. Life is unsure these days, with all of the corruption and immorality running rampant, not just in our governments, but just as much in the people who elected them. Still, in a few years, I’ll be moving on to a better place where I’ll reconnect with some of the folks that I now miss. Even the little things like the pleasure of swinging an axe again, or listening to the flocks of migrating blackbirds in the air above me remind me that life isn’t all bad, and that God has blessed me richly. I guess it’s no wonder us old folks talk about the old days so much, we’ve had a lot of them. The rings on the stump tell me THAT much. © 2013