The oldest man with some knowledge of trees died 11 years ago. Other men lived longer, but those men didn’t know anything about trees when they were younger and for every year they aged they knew even less. This matters because the old man who knew of trees knew things that no one else knew, but his formal schooling in the land where he was from had ended before it began. He needed to work with his father, to work on those trees near that town where he was raised, to cut them and to saw them and to chop them and to stack them. He learned some things, like how to wedge the back cut when felling a giant Oak, but he didn’t learn other things, namely, how to write. He could write his name, he could make big Xs on trees that needed to be felled, but his written abilities were limited even while his knowledge of trees was not.
What he learned when he was a young man was that a variety of tree would go dormant, sometimes for up to 12 years, and then the tree would come to life, and he only learned this by chance. In his town there was no spring, no fall, only winter and summer, the latter lasting mere weeks, the former covering everything else in a heavy cloak of snow and ice. He knew of deciduous trees, how they lost their leaves one day, the day that was believed to be what fall would be like, and then the next day they looked dead. When it snowed the trees looked especially crooked, old and wrinkled, gnarled even. Then, on the day that most thought to be spring, the leaves popped back out and the tree was alive again. The leaves thrived for the short summer, and the cycle repeated. You needn’t know how to write to understand that this is how trees work.
But one spring, a certain tree didn’t leaf. The summer, no leaves. The winter, well it looked the same as the last winter and the same as the last summer. The next year, the same thing. No leaves. Some around town took to cutting down their trees, they’re dead!, they’d say. But the young man and his father were busy filling an exhaustive order for the largest lumber yard in the entire area, and that summer and the next they were only cutting down Eastern Red Walnuts. Nothing else. There were so many trees and such a larger order that nothing else was cut during those years. The snow piled high in front of their small house, the only wood that burned was wood left over from the earlier year. While the man and his aging father hiked to find and cut these Eastern Red Walnuts, or ERW (pronounced, convincingly as errrrr), the other men in town set to chopping down the sort of tree that had withered and died.
After some time of this, the order was filled and the family bought a new goat and two new horses. The horses were big and strong, tall. They were fit with the finest of hardware, leather and brass, each the finest of its variety available. The horses would haul a wagon, this was also new, bought with the small windfall that had come their way as a result of years of back breaking, literally for one hired log chopper, dedicated work. The other men in town were jealous, and rightfully so. With the work done, the man and his dad looked about for the next round of work, for the new trees that might have recently died and would need to be cut, chopped, and stacked, or cut, sectioned, and milled.
While wrapped up in the focus for the Walnuts, the trees in town that had withered and died had all been chopped down by the other men in town. This meant every dead tree had already been removed from the community owned properties and from those large yards where the families who owned the distributorship lived, and this left very little work for the man and his son. The old trees that they could find were the dead and dying trees on their own property, those trees that were once tall and proud and full of life. One morning, the man and his elderly father decided to rid their property of these dead trees. They gathered their saws, one for felling and one for sectioning, and set about marking giant Xs on the offending, dead trees. When the last tree was marked and the first tree was to be harvested, the man and his father paused.
If they cut down these trees, there would be nothing but splitting and stacking and sectioning and cording. The work, after such a long and dedicated focus on the Walnuts, appeared to be a task so daunting that they were uncertain if they were up to it. The man had wanted to take a job in town, to clean the dust from his hair and the dirt from his nails and see if he might be a success selling paper and board feet for the local mill, but his father had needed his help and so the clean shirted jobs had to wait. On that day, with a forest of dead trees awaiting them, they decided that it was time to quit. The father was old, his eyesight failing, his back long ago retired. The man and his father agreed that it was time for new things, a city job for the young man and retirement for the old man. The dead trees would stay upright for now.
And so the young man went to town and earned his living. He was a great success at the mill, earning not once, but three times, the salesman of the month. He returned home infrequently, but on that summer day when the word came that his dad was on his death bed he packed his things and hurried home. When he arrived, his grief was set aside when he discovered the forest of his youth, alive again with green leaves bold and waxy. The trees, those trees that were believed to be dead, the trees that the town had unmercifully cut down and burned in their stoves, those trees were alive again. It turned out they were never dead, only mostly dead. The young man hurried inside to find his mother in quiet tears and his father dead. The last words, scribbled on a bedside notepad, the ash tree. It lives.
PS. I’m aware this post has caused lots of brain damage. The point is, these Ash trees are all dead and it makes me very upset. So I’m hoping they’re not really dead, and that they’ll all come back to life in the near future, but if I wrote it just like that you wouldn’t have had to endure such a difficult read.