An Elm Tree: 125 Years

Written by RitaC on February 10th, 2017

“What caused it to die?” I asked, writing out a check larger than our mortgage payment

“It’s an elm tree,” he said. “Dutch Elm Disease, kills the elms.” He paused.  “It’s like today, the Ash Borer’s taking down the ashes.”

Earlier I’d walked out to what was now a stump and asked one of his workers how old he thought the tree was.

“Oh, a hundred and twenty-five years,” he said. “Not too old.  It looks older than it is.”

Not too old?

I looked at the circle of rings, the elm’s history. Once past the sapling stage, a wide ring stood out, a year bursting with growth: the mid-eighteen nineties. 

To what events had this elm tree been privy?

Every year, crops were planted and harvested, primarily corn and wheat, in this land, once a Revolutionary War land grant of 1200 acres.

On a clear day, the Wright Brothers and their flying machine rose into the air over the Huffman Prairie.

When the first automobile came rattling into the driveway, chickens squawked and flew out of the way, feathers drifting everywhere.

The power and light company strung electric lines alongside the road, and days became longer than sunrise to sunset.

Family constellations came and went: big farming families, a mother and son, a husband and wife, a newlywed couple and her teen daughter.

Over time, land was trimmed off the acreage until a mere two acres remained.

On the eastern property line beside a broken-down fence, the elm tree shaded in summer and grew deep roots in winter.

Last summer, a new hammock went up between two majestic maples, near the elm.

The big elm had lost big plaques of bark and leaned further over the neighbor’s paddock.

I didn’t want to think about.

The fact was: I was losing another grand tree.

Over the years, two maples, each well over two hundred years old, came down. An ice storm left the black locusts looking like stunted giants missing significant limbs. A wind shear–a tornado according to our immediate community–downed twenty five mature trees, mostly maples and locusts.

We’ve planted maples–sugar and silver–dogwoods, Colorado blue spruces, birch. We’ve seen some grow heartily while other snap in the extreme wind out here.

Now, one more giant was coming down.

I didn’t want to watch. I didn’t have to.

The tree company came as a surprise last Monday morning. I had several appointments.

It can be said that a tree dying is an act of nature. It can be said that a tree’s beauty never dies. It can be said that all things are transient.

Yet, these homilies do not fill the space in the distance where a tree once stood, where birds swoop toward nonexistent branches..






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