Friday, May 18, 2012

Elm Tree's Friend Dies Two Years After Elm's Death.

In some ways, I can relate to Frank Knight.

Knight, of Yarmouth, Maine, died last week at the age of 103.

The reason I like Knight, and mourn his death, is that one of Knight's biggest accomplishments was taking care of a 217-year old elm tree that Knight had named "Herbie"

The late Frank Knight and his friend Herbie the elm
in the background

Knight worked for decades as this special tree's advocate, spending 50 years or so trying to  stave off the effects of Dutch elm disease,which killed most of the graceful old elm trees in the United States over the past several decades, according to the Portland, Maine Press Herald.
Herbie finally succumbed to the disease a couple years ago.

Knight said at the time he accepted Herbie's fate.

''Nothing lasts forever," Knight said. "We had a great, beautiful relationship, and I thank God every night for it."

One nice touch is Knight was buried in a casket made of wood from Herbie the elm.

That he was such a fan of this particular tree means he's a man after my own heart. Scattered across Vermont are trees I always mentally salute when I see them.

This started when I was a kid. We had an enormous sugar maple on our Vermont property. The tallest, biggest NBA player could never get his arms around the tree to hug it. About five feet of the ground the trunk split into five branches. Each branch was the size of a fully grown maple, so this giant was really five trees in one.

My dad built a tree house up there in the maple, where I would hide from any worries I had. Something about that dense canopy of dark green maple leaves that hid me, comforted me, somehow told me everything would be all right. Silly, I know, but that's the way it worked in my head. But there is something about summer foliage, that green, that soothes the brain.

We also had a swing attached to a large branch on the tree. In the autumn my sister Lynn and I would build an enormous pile of fallen leaves. We'd get the swing going as high as possible, then let go and plunge into the big leaf pile. This could go on all day.

The power company eventually came and sawed down this gigantic maple. Something about worries that a branch could fall across nearby power lines. I've never forgiven the power company for that.

I get the point about the power lines. I'm not exactly in favor of elderly people freezing to death in the dark during a winter storm. But the maple had been there so long. I'm guessing maybe 200 years. It was there first. It wasn't a person, but didn't it demand respect? Could there have been some alternative to cutting it down?

Probably, but I guess trees are never worth spending a little extra money on, no matter how grand. The economy trumps nature, sometimes too often.

But the memory of that maple is why I salute Frank Knight and his elm friend Herbie. And it's why I salute those standout trees scattered across Vermont. The beautiful elm along Route 105 in Sheldon. That incredibly immense white poplar along Falls Road in Shelburne.  There's an old sugar maple on a front lawn in Brandon, Vermont that's perfectly proportioned. And who could resist the ancient sugar maples guarding the graceful old farm houses turned bed and breakfasts near Wallingford, Vermont?

Do you have a favorite tree? Or a great memory of one? Do share.

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