Aug 2, 2005

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.

The moving hand writes, and having written, moves on.

Dust in the wind/all we are is dust in the wind.

Yeah, you're starting to see the pattern too, aren't you. Clever lads and lasses.

I was out yesterday evening in the pre-dusk swelter trimming trees in the field. I missed it this weekend while I was out cutting, but knew I needed to get out there and take care of it before either the wild grape vines suffocate my saplings or I'm swept clean off the tractor seat by a malicious oak branch. So, yesterday evening found me driving the truck down the gravel road slowly, stopping often so I could climb out with my limb loppers and my gloves and do a little large-scale bonsai sculpting.

A large part of owning a field with trees has become, for me, The Trimming. It happens two to three times a year, depending on the growth that year, and involves me going from tree to tree with a pair of cross-cut loppers and reaching to just under my maximum extension with them, to trim branches. Anything that grows downwards gets the lop, and anything that has sprouted (on the older trees) below my reach gets the works, too. This leaves me (no pun intended) with trees that have a lovely, smooth shape, starting just about 8' off the ground and going up to it's natural shape. It also leaves me enough room to get under them comfortably while remaining seated on the tractor.

I've done this for years and years now, and have some fairly sizeable oak trees out there who are just about getting tall enough that they no longer require trimming, and I have some crepe myrtles that are young enough that they require trimming about five times a month. But, I'm game, so I slog along.

Then there's a few trees out there who require trimming about once every seven years.

My great grandfather, back in his day, decided that the bayou would be a good place to settle down and do some farming, so he bought just over 40 acres from the owners of the declining Tyrone Plantation and, with the help of a family of freed slaves, began farming. At the time there must have been a few trees here, nothing serious, and lots of open land. Fast forward four generations, and there are some oak trees out here that are not as old as the ones at Evangeline but they're getting up there. I have seen a pecan tree cut down out there that was as thick as I was tall, and that's saying something. There is a sycamore tree on the side of the property that has to be pushing 80' tall and a good eight feet thick at it's trunk. And I've had the enjoyment of planting and watching 5' tall, spindly live oak saplings turn into respectable, 30' tall shade trees.

When I lived in the trailer, the Extension Service of LA was giving away Longleaf pine trees, 100 to the flat, for free if you owned property in the state. My mother scored us a flat, and we planted for most of a summer in the field, and I took a number of them and outlined my fenceline at the old house, thinking that the chances were pretty good I'd be there forever.

Well, 10 years later I've moved, my brother took the fence down, and now there's a rectangle of beautiful, 15' tall Longleaf pines in his backyard for no apparent reason except for being there. I had planted them three to a space, so at least one would grow well, and last weekend he finally went out there and trimmed out the extras where there were two and sometimes three all growing at once go.

What has started to get my attention is that I want to plant some more oaks out there in the field, and maybe move some of these volunteer magnolias out there for some variety, and I'd even like to put another sycamore or two out there, just so future generations can be amased, like me, at it's tremendous size and strength.

But that's the rub: I won't see it. I likely won't see my 30' tall oak saplings get much bigger than average, if they survive the years. I will see the crepe myrtles grow, and perhaps when I'm ready to shuffle off this mortal coil they'll be that lovely thick, smoothly-gnarled size that I like to see them at, but that's an outside chance. I'll certainly never see the trees I plant this summer and the next and the next get to anywhere near the might and majesty of the trees that my grandfather and my father planted.

I finally came face-to-face with my own mortality, reflected in the rough scrumble of oak tree bark. I love my trees, both the tiny saplings barely over my head and the twenty and thirty year old pecan trees that my father planted when he first moved here, and the massive sycamore and the live oaks that have seen 150 years or more. I love the idea of having this entire field covered in trees of one variety or another, so that my daughter can clear out a space in the midst of them and build a house for herself, and live within cool breezes and shade, and her children can play under the spread of leaves and toss magnolia burrs at each other for sport, or build pine straw forts in the grass. Perhaps my daughter will be as introspective and nostalgic as me and spend afternoons looking at those spreading giants, and wonder what it was like when her father was young, or her grandfather, and each of us spent our time out there in the field, bending to shovel at the hard clay, enduring the heat to carefully trim and shape each sapling, opening the way for another giant to rise up and unfurl it's limbs in the sky.

And hopefully, she'll do the same for the generations she'll never see.

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