May 12, 2017
Hello again Maple People,
My wife was diggin’ around the house recently and found a video that my cousin Rebecca produced a few years ago about a tree…a 160 year-old-tree. It was a sugar maple, born sometime pre-Civil War that died of old age in 1994. And oh yes, there was a person involved, Rebecca’s and my great, great, great grandfather James Morse, but this story is much more about this tree than a person. That majestic maple spent its life on the farm Grandpa James chiseled out of the side of Long Meadow Hill in Calais, Vermont. After producing sap for multiple human generations, it spent its long retirement serving as habitat for wildlife. When its limbs became too course and gnarly and no more buds appeared the Spring of 1994, it was apparent “the time had come”.
The video shows one summer day in that same year when Rebecca and her father Wayne, feeling a powerful ancestral responsibility, donned their woods gear and trekked out to where the old tree stood. First, standing at its massive base, they scanned the surroundings at a forest full of its descendants, determining a path, I suppose, of least destruction. Out of respect, they started the task with an ancient crosscut saw but, alas, stamina ran out part way through and a trusty chainsaw stood at the ready. The video goes on to show Wayne carefully notching one side and then laboriously (there’s nothing easy about felling a 160-year-old maple) completing the back cut on the other side. All was done with a timber-size amount of reverence, complete with a background of “kickin'” banjo music…a perfect eulogy for one of God’s faithful servants.
The video ends with the saw cut that slowly widens, the behemoth leans and creaks and then, crash, falls to the earth. It closes with the Morses splitting off chunks that will serve a second life keeping people warm. I recently visited Wayne to see a saved cross section of the old tree. On it, the story is told once again by growth rings that do not lie. It was tapped the first time at 50 years old, had both good and bad growing years, and grew to a ripe old age.
Visiting Wayne that day also brought a chance to “catch up”. As we stood talking, I trained my eyes westward toward Grandpa James’ old place. The hillside lay greening with Spring’s buds emerging in a forest of new growth maples. I could hear the whispering of a gentle breeze caressing their tops. The poet Tagore wrote beautifully: “Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven”. Poking through this reverie, my thoughts gently spoke: “Hear hear, heaven’s listening.”