DYE: Listening to the stories of the trees

Photo by Brad Dye

I captured this sunrise on the first day after all the storms had passed. The warmth of that sun on my face was much-needed after several days of freezing temperatures. I was eager for the coming thaw that its warmth promised.

“You know that old trees just grow stronger

and old rivers grow wilder every day.” —John Prine, “Hello in There”

It was a helpless feeling watching (and listening) as the oaks, magnolias and pines cracked and broke under the weight of their frozen burdens. I had experienced it before, but I felt more attached to these trees. I have always felt that attachment here at the farm.

DYE: Listening to the stories of the trees

Photo by Brad Dye

The snow and ice was beautiful; however, the weight of both proved too much of a burden for many of the trees at the farm. Our two large and beautiful magnolias survived but lost several of their limbs as a result of the storm.

The three oaks in the front yard were actually transplanted here by Gena’s grandfather Billy Hull. “Big Billy” had dug them carefully from “the pasture,” as it was known then. He had taken them from their home near an old cattle catch pen, the remnants of which still remain today, and brought them a few miles west to their new home in front of the brick house he had just built.

“The brick house” is the house we recently remodeled and now call home. Along with those oaks are two of the largest magnolias I have ever seen and an immense cedar tree. All have sustained damage during the deep freeze of the ice storm that hammered Mississippi last week.

The landscape will be forever changed. I remember seeing the same type of devastating effects from ice here in Mississippi during the ice storm of 1994. In particular, I recall seeing pictures of the beautiful Grove at the University of Mississippi. At the time, I thought those majestic oaks, elms and magnolias would never be the same again. However, time — and a dedicated Landscape Services Department — has a way of healing things.

DYE: Listening to the stories of the trees

Photo by Brad Dye

Two of the oaks that Gena’s grandfather Billy Hull transplanted in the front yard at the farm bending under the weight of the ice frozen on their branches. All three weathered the storm, and although they lost several branches, we are hopeful that they are all with us for many more years.

My hope for the farm is the hope that John Prine expressed in his song “Hello in There,” the hope “that old trees just grow stronger.” Hopefully, time and the dedication of our landscaping crew here at the farm (Gena and myself) will heal the wounds of these majestic old trees as well.

All three of the oaks produced a bounty of acorns this past season. Those acorns attracted deer nightly, and on moonlit nights we would watch through our windows as they came within yards of our house to feast. Often, the deer would ignore the corn from our feeder by the lake in favor of the acorns.

Each of the oaks is already host to the parasitic plant known as mistletoe. According to an article by Bonnie L. Grant in garndeningknowhow.com, “Mistletoe in trees steals nutrients and water from the host tree... it can reduce the production of the tree since some of its resources are impacted.” Thus far, the trees have managed to overcome the effects of the mistletoe. I hope they can now recover from the damage inflicted by the ice.

Trees, much like people, all have a story. I have only been privy to portions of that story in my time here. I pray that the story continues. In his story “Crazy Tree” from the collection “Here Where We Belong,” Otha Barham speaks to these stories in his description of an old pine near Bailey Creek. “Beyond the privilege of viewing its imposing form, I wanted to hear its story. For we all have a life story, we earth creatures.” Barham adds, “I heard a bit of its story that day as I stared at its form, but it would take the old tree 45 years to tell me all of it, a bit here and some more there. I listened all those years patiently.”

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As the sun began to melt the ice and snow after the storm, we began to survey the damage. Our trees lost several of their limbs, and as I said, the landscape at the farm has changed as a result. My hope is the hope John Prine expressed: I hope these “old trees just grow stronger.”

Ultimately, in the midst of the current devastation of tree limbs on the ground, life goes on. I watched Saturday as the warmth of the sun melted the ice from the majestic oaks and magnolias. The water would now be absorbed by their roots, and the cycle would continue. Life is going on around us all the time if we will only take the time to look. However, that lack of attention is one of the fundamental problems of us humans.

Richard Powers addresses this directly in his best-selling book “The Overstory.” “That’s the trouble with people, their root problem,” Powers writes, adding, “Life runs alongside them, unseen. Right here, right next. Creating the soil. Cycling the water. Trading in nutrients. Making weather. Building atmosphere. Feeding and curing and sheltering more kinds of creatures than people know how to count.”

Life goes on. Time heals. We work and toil to clean up the debris and begin again. Spring will be well-timed as always. New growth will burst forth, and the world will become green again. The helpless feeling of listening to limbs cracking, a sound like gunshots in the silence of the night, and being able to do nothing to stop it will subside.

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The storm proved too much for the pine that sits just behind the prayer garden where several of our beloved dogs are buried. We will miss the shade it provided from the afternoon sun. Fortunately, the sawtooth oaks that Pop planted several years ago will soon be large enough to provide shade for the garden for years to come.

It is during times like these that I am reminded of just how small I am up against the world that surrounds me. With no power or water, I was reminded of just how addicted I and we have become to comfort. It reminded me of a different time and a different destruction called Hurricane Katrina. I am thankful to be on the backside of both.

I look forward to the coming spring as a time of renewal. In time, this place will heal. I am thankful to get to play a small role in that healing. Until next time, I look forward to seeing you out there in our great outdoors.

Email outdoors columnist Brad Dye at braddye@comcast.net.

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