Shade tree sentiments

Therephoto was a turn toward fall the last week of September at the farm. The days were still summery—in the 80s—but the nights were cool. September in my childhood was always the month of planting wheat and starting school. True to form, the wheat is in and right on schedule a big yellow school bus motored up the road the first day I was there.

I used this trip to clean up some storm damage from a few weeks ago. A windstorm downed some large limbs from the eighty-year old Siberian elm trees that my father planted in the thirties. One of them was hanging from “Denny’s tree” near the road, in front of the farmhouse. In my childhood Denny was a neighbor who lived two miles up the road. He and his wife and three or four children lived at a subsistence level. They heated their shack of a house with wood and had no car. When they needed groceries Denny would walk the four miles to town.

When he got to our place, which was halfway, he’d sometimes stop and rest in the shade of one of our elm trees. Part of his reason for doing this was a hope that one of us would notice him and give him a ride to town. Which we often did. My dad would see him out there and take pity. He’d say, “Oh, get the pickup and give old Denny a ride.” And one of us would. And now all these years later, Denny is long gone, but his tree remains.

In addition to trimming trees on this trip, I put a new storm door on the north porch of the farmhouse. There were probably other needs that were more pressing, but the condition of that side of the house, next to the driveway, has bothered me since the farm came back into the family a year and a few months ago. The old storm door was missing and its frame had been flapping in the wind. So I got a new (used) door at Habitat Restore (I’m getting pretty good at scavanging), and repaired a couple of porch windows, and now the porch is weathertight. This makes me feel better and makes the house look a little better. This was the main entry into the house way back when.

I also removed and brought home two second-story bedroom windows which were coming apart from longtime exposure to weather. Sometime in the seventies Mom and Dad had aluminum storm windows put on most of the house, but they didn’t spend the money to protect the three upstairs windows because they didn’t heat that part of the house. Which would have been okay if the people Mom and Dad sold the house to twenty years ago had bothered to keep those windows maintained. They didn’t, and as a result they were falling apart, allowing intrusion by wasps and larger critters, plus letting water into the wall. So I removed the two worst windows on this trip.

Those upper windows are also the only original windows on the farmhouse. They date to 1872. It was the era when windows mostly had sash weights, but these are different. When the lower sash is raised it is held in place by spring-loaded sash pins rather than weights. Preliminary internet research indicates this was a cheaper way to go way back then. Too bad. I kinda like playing with the old sash weights and pulleys. The springs still work on these pins, though. It was apparently a pretty basic technology. When I had the windows out I thought for a few moments about the last time these holes in the wall were opened up––during construction. The scenery out the window was an unbroken prairie. It still isn’t much different. The prairie (pasture) is still there, although now it is punctuated by a few fence posts, a power line, and a couple of cattle feed bunks across the road. Nothing’s perfect.

My plan is to rebuild these two windows this winter. It will take all of my woodworking skill and then some, but I hope to enlist a friend and try to learn something in the process. In the meantime the two holes in the wall will remain plywooded over. That makes the house look like it’s abandoned, but down the road it’ll look much better. I also need to find aluminum storms to fit these windows so that they will last another 140 years. (A fella can dream).

Am I having fun doing all this? I’m of an age where I could relax a little, but something is driving me to do all this work. Part of it is simply reliving my childhood and part of it is to see if I’m up to the challenge of doing things I may only do once––like repairing these windows. I’m learning stuff and using my hands for something other than typing on a keyboard, which I’ve done most of my life. I also simply hate to see buildings decline. It’s a curse.

On this trip I was also witness to a blue jay migration. Not all blue jays migrate, but many do. The science is still unclear on all this, but on one of the days at the farm there were a dozen bluejays in the trees, carrying on like only blue jays can, flying from tree to tree, and chattering about some highly important matter, all the while proceeding in a southerly direction.

September is also the month of the Monarch butterfly migration. Every few minutes, as I worked at my various tasks on the farm, a Danaus plexippus would come drifting by. In my childhood I seem to remember a lot more of them, however. It was common to see a half dozen at any one time. It seems certain we’re thinning them out with our pesticides and rapacious agricultural practices. That’s a little depressing to think about, but for the moment I’m celebrating the ones on their journey.

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