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Kountry Life Memories

The Sentinels
We used to do a lot of work sharing with one of my uncles during hay season. Actually, he wasn't really involved much, but put his two late teenaged sons up to his share of the work. He had basically no equipment at all, and what he did have would have slowed us down, anyway, if the sons brought it with them.

They were good workers, and almost worshipped Dad, as he treated them well, and probably better than their own father did. Dad never worked them too hard, and they knew it. He always made sure they were fed well, also. We would head out to the field, and I would go, too, as nothing on the farm escaped me, even if I was too young to participate in any meaningful sort of way. Dad would let one of then drive the tractor on the baler, and he would build the loads. When we came in, he would go up in the mow, and one of them would throw off to him and the other one. The cousins took turns in the loft, but Dad NEVER unloaded wagons--he always was in the loft. That tradition, of him taking the hard part never let up; even a few years ago, when he was in his mid-80's, and we had the hay taken off on shares; he didn't have to do ANYTHING, but yet, there he was, up in the loft, piling back with a vengence, one that made the much younger men's performances leave something to be desired, and they readily admitted it.

Anyhow, our farm lane was lined on both sides with big, beautiful elm trees, majestic, and seemingly impervious to anything. Their branches leaned towards each other, across the lane, and formed an arch. The trees always seemed to me like the guardians of the farm, they were so straight and tall, just like soldiers. Everything seemed safe, with those silent sentinels always standing there at attention. At the base of them was a wild strawberry patch, that I spent many wonderful, peaceful, summer Sunday afternoons in, with Dad, eating our full of the absolutely delectable fruit in the cool fresh shade of those beautiful trees. Just passing that patch made me dizzy with the aroma of those wonderful big sweet berries.

When we would come in with a couple of loads of hay, the tops of the loads barely passed underneath the arcing branches of those elm trees. A typical kid, I usually rode in on the top of the load, and fondly remember having to flatten right out, spread eagle on the top of the load, to pass under the lowest branches of the elm trees, as they rubbed their cool leaves soothingly over my hot prone body. There was always a breeze in those trees, somehow, and they freshened the air in an electric way.

The coming of the Dutch Elm Disease in the late 70's was disasterous for our farm lane's guardians, and myriads of others around, also. We could almost hear them crying for help as they died, with us absolutely powerless to do anything about it. One by one, they succumbed to the effects of the disease, until only one was left alive, standing green, proud, and resolute. It remained, in total defiance of the encroaching enemy. In the coming years, we reluctantly had it's dead comrades cut down in the fall, and hauled away for firewood, all but the one unaffected by the blight. I so well remember one of my cousins, sent up the lane, to cut down the last dead one. I was in MY teens now, and a very quick tempered, 'stand up for what I believe in' kid. I heard the saw running, and thought it sounded odd, like it wasn't coming from the right place. I walked out to the bottom end of the lane...and froze in my tracks--there was my cousin, cutting down the one living tree!!! With the worst kind of dread seizing my stomach in a sickening vise-like grip, I barreled back into the yard, and Dad asked me what was wrong. I half screamed, 'He's cutting down the wrong tree!!!', as I jumped into the truck. He sadly replied that the tree would likely get Dutch Em, and die anyway, just as all the others had. I wouldn't let it die without a chance. Not like that. My foot on the floor, I left Dad standing in a cloud of dust and spraying gravel as I took off out to the barnyard, and up the lane. I skidded to a sideways stop at the tree, and bellowed at my cousin to stop, that it was the wrong tree. I would surely have tackled him if he hadn't, running chainsaw and all.

The wound to the old soldier was like a blow; the felling wedge was almost cut completely through, only another inch or so, and it could have been taken out. My cousin didn't recognise it as the live one, as it was in it's winter dormancy. I said to leave it alone, and give it a chance. I drove in, almost sick to my stomach with the dreadful expectation that the last remaining elm tree in the lane had met it's Waterloo.

That was nearly twenty years ago, and the last sentinel is still standing erectly at his post, proudly bearing his battle scar, mute but powerful testimony to Churchill's famous words, 'Never Surrender'.

There are new elm trees growing here now, doubtlessly from the pollen of that lone disease-resistant tree. Hope springs eternal...

Dsl, from On, entered 2000-06-11

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