Meridian Star

February 1, 2013

I think that I shall never see...

By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —    ...A poem as lovely as a tree", said a wise and observant Joyce Kilmer. Nor I. Kilmer spoke for the heart of most of us, and that is why we remember fondly the opening line of the poem he penned before he died during World War I in France during an heroic attack on a German machine-gun nest. Pen in hand, he realized his words were subordinate to his subject. Although I am enamored with carefully placed words, structured with meter and with rhyming lines, especially lines about the outdoors, the highest use of man’s beautiful languages pale in the presence of Creation in the form of a tree. And for many of us, there have been some special trees in our lives.

    It is not hard to pick my all time favorite tree, though there are many from which to choose. It is the old pine near Bailey Creek in north Lauderdale County; the one my friend, Ivan Chisolm, and I irreverently named “The Crazy Tree” in the 1950's. This grand old monarch stood beside the little stream in three different centuries. Mr. John Carpenter, of the Bailey community, said the tree had been dead when he first saw it during his childhood. Mr. John was born in 1891. I can find no evidence of how long it had been dead before his time, but it had to have been a seedling in the 1700's.

    The giant tree had formed its own monument, standing dead, but tall, slick and gray throughout its years in the 20th century until it finally fell in the 1960's. The tons of bark it had shed over a monumental lifetime lay as humus some four feet deep around its base. And its sturdy crown towered far above the trees of a mature mixed stand in its environs, reaching twice the height of many of them.

    The old pine made such an impression on me that I speculate on its history in my book, "Here Where We Belong," and how it survived the crosscut saws of early European settlers because its bole was twisted and crooked.  

    Another tree that causes me to catch my breath is the huge water oak in the front yard of my mother-in-law's old home place in Smith County. Its roots reach far into the stream of sub-surface water where three wells once furnished farm water. Some of its limbs are larger than many mature oaks. Its trunk measures over 16 feet in circumference at chest height. Nowadays the giant tree produces annual acorn crops that must reach into the hundreds of pounds, a typical sign of oaks in their last years. This is Nature's way of ensuring sufficient seeding for the future I suppose.

    When I consider the prodigious trees in my life, I recall the old apple tree in the sprawling back yard of my boyhood home in Lauderdale County. There, struggling against the shade of an older and much larger pecan tree, stood the diminutive apple tree which our father planted not long after the end of World War II. It was the last surviving tree of a dozen or so fruit trees he planted. And a few of its weakening limbs survived over 50 years until one April its sap simply did not rise.

    Perhaps late in this century the big water oak will meet the same fate, as did the venerable pine on Bailey Creek back in the 1800s. But somewhere today a seed is preparing to sprout; a seed of destiny. It will grow into a tree which will help define someone's life. And it too will be revered and treasured. Other trees will root and grow and find their places in the hearts and minds of the future. And they will bring enchantment that surpasses the joys of poetry.