A Downed Tree Sparks Memories

By Joe Rector

Well, it took 9 ½ inches of snow, several inches of rain, and the runoff from the upper yard to do it, but the old pine tree at the end of the woods finally came crashing down. It occurred at about 9:30 p.m. Amy came into the family room and asked me if I had heard the noise. I answered “yes,” and then she asked me if I knew which tree just fell and I again answered “yes.”

For some time, that tree which stood about 80 feet tall had been leaning. Two men who cut trees told me it wasn’t quite bad enough to drop the tree yet. Neither knew just how much water and snow had soaked the ground and weakened the hold that the tree roots had. At any rate, I examined the downed pine and the damage its drop had caused to other trees. A few large limbs were lodged in some trees, but for the most part, the damages were minimal, and the mess to be cut and cleaned was large.

That tree was special. Like so many others, it brought back plenty of memories from half a century and more. This monstrosity that lay in my yard was once nothing more than a scraggly little tree no taller than I was, I remembered. Behind it was a chicken coop. Daddy decided to buy about a hundred chickens and some banty hens. They proved to be meaner than the others, so I kept my distance from them. Sometimes on Saturdays, Daddy would walk to the fenced area and choose a chicken. He’d bring it to the backyard and wring its neck. Nothing I knew of at that time in life was creepier than a chicken running around without a head. We boys would cross the barbed wire that lined the neighbor’s farm and search for the head. After a few minutes, we lost interest in it and went back to our yard.

A few years later, we went out of the chicken business. Mother converted the coop into a shop. Someone ran electricity to the old building, and Mother had a bandsaw and other tools in there. That pine tree had grown quite a bit and offered some shade to the building and kept the ever-present scent of chicken manure down. She made several wooden circles and then took them to school. She taught her classes how to make baskets by weaving wooden strips around the circles. After middle schools became the rage for Knox County, she quit making them with students who no longer seemed to think such a project was special.

Our parents got us a basketball goal one year, and that pine tree served as a solid pole on which to hang it. In no time, our court was nothing more than dirt. Dribbling on it was next to impossible, and after a rain, we were left shooting baskets until the muddy ground dried. Before long, the backboard loosened, and perfect shots deflected off the goal as the backboard wobbled.

I’ve worked on this old tree since it fell. My chainsaw isn’t working correctly, and my experience is limited with cutting up such a big piece of wood. Luckily, a former student of mine does this kind of work and is willing to cut this big thing into chunks. Oh, I’ll pay him for his work, but not as much as I would have to pay a company. I’ll set the wood on the side of the road and put a “Free” sign on it. Eventually, I will have to haul the stuff to the back of the yard and burn it. I won’t have to dodge the tree or its roots anymore when I mow, but every time I pass the spot where it stood, I’ll think of it and how tall and old it had grown. In many ways, that tree and I have plenty in common.