“When old men plant trees…”

Every day I brace myself for more evidence that the world is slipping into an abyss of natural catastrophe and political/cultural disintegration. I’m rarely disappointed. I try not to fear for my grandchildren, but how can I not?

The Antarctic ice shelf is collapsing much faster than predicted. I live in a province that has just elected a blow-hard with a very shady past to lead it for the next four years, echoing that megalomaniac south of the border. And who knows where that will end? I watch in horror as the world order that began to take shape about when I was born hangs by a more and more fragile thread. I won’t go on. You get the idea.

Back at the farm…Jack is being treated for a metastasis of the kidney cancer that left him with a single kidney a year ago. Now the rogue cells have decided to take up residence in his lungs. He’s begun a medication that—if it works—he will continue with indefinitely. He’s tolerating it amazingly well for now, and life goes on as usual. Still, it’s cancer…an elephant that moves with you from room to room.

And so, it does feel somewhat inappropriate that what I’m mourning today is not western civilization or my spouse’s good health, but a tree.

When we first arrived here in 1972, most of the trees in open areas were elms, and most were dying. Dead and dying elms lined the river; the shade groves in the pastures were clumps of elms—no longer offering shade, as the sun poured between naked branches. A large stand of elms created a grey belt just at the bottom of the green hill. During our first year or two, the government paid landowners a stumpage fee for every dead elm they cut down. We were heating with wood then, and appreciated the government’s largesse.

For the next decade, volunteer elms began showing themselves. I’m not sure when we first noticed this one. It was obviously just beginning in this very embarrassing photo (from the early 1980s, I’d guess, from Robin’s age).

Here’s a quote from Shifting Currrents that I feel the need to share along with the photo:

“I tried to filter out what I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) deal with—the messy basement, the muddy barnyard cluttered with equipment, the stack of firewood that refused to line up with the geometric precision of the neighbours’…”  

Oh dear. Several of those failings are pretty evident here. There must have been a lot of filtering going on!



Dutch elm disease, carried by the Dutch elm beetle, was on the wane for many years after the scourge of the 1970s. Long enough, in fact, for that little tree to become an elegant source of shade as well as a reminder of our long tenure in this place. When the disease reappeared about ten years ago, we contacted an arborist about saving the specimen we’d come to love. We’ve been having it inoculated every year since. Two years ago, we began to see some yellowing branches. Our arborist hit it with a double dose. Last year, a few more, another double dose. This year…I’m afraid we’ve lost the battle. The arborist is coming back in two weeks to give it another treatment, but I think it may be too late. The leaves are shriveling over much of the tree. The ground beneath is littered with leaves. It’s June.


IMG_0394It won’t break my heart to lose a tree. Over the years, we became so enthusiastic about planting trees that our yard is now heavily in shade. I’d be happy for a bit more light to break through. But this particular tree has become a symbol of survival against odds. At a time when I’d like to be reassured about survival on various levels, I hate to lose it.

In keeping with the Greek proverb, though, we’ll no doubt fill the hole it leaves.

“Society grows great when old men [yes, and old women too] plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit under.”

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2 Responses to “When old men plant trees…”

  1. Bill Mohrman says:

    From my own experience with Sue, I appreciate how difficult Jack’s cancer is for both of you. From reading Shifting Currents I know you bring great personal strength to the situation.

  2. Mary-Lynn Murphy says:

    Another good post, Paula; your writing is always a joy to read (even when the content reflects the current state of things). Glad to hear Jack’s doing well with the treatment. See you Thursday. ML

    On Sat, Jun 23, 2018 at 4:08 PM, From Echo River and Guanajuato wrote:

    > pdunning posted: “Every day I brace myself for more evidence that the > world is slipping into an abyss of natural catastrophe and > political/cultural disintegration. I’m rarely disappointed. I try not to > fear for my grandchildren, but how can I not? The Antarctic ice shelf ” >

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