Sunday, September 18, 2011

Splitting A Branch Of James Monroe

The autumnal equinox is just a few days away and I’m preparing for winter here on Windsong. You know the drill; get storm windows ready to install, sweep the chimney with a wire brush, clean and condition lawn furniture for storage, keep ahead of the falling leaves, finally, start splitting wood; enough for a three month supply, about three cords. I have a high efficiency fire place that keeps the place warm, and if it gets really cold – below zero – I  have a wood burning Elvira kitchen stove from Canada.

By the way, the wood comes from dead-fall trees on Windsong. Except this year my son Alfred lost to a storm, a behemoth oak tree that fronted his commercial building in Dunlap, in the Sequatchie Valley, Tennessee. He transported some of the larger limbs, already bucked, up the mountain and piled them by my woodpile. The trunk of the tree was taken by some folks that apparently needed the wood more than the owner, bless their little hearts. 

The largest of the behemoth’s “limbs” measured up to 40 inches diameter. It had one-hundred and sixty annular rings. The trunk had about one-hundred and ninety. Doing the math this living, breathing flora sprouted in about 1820. James Monroe, the fifth president, was elected, and Maine was admitted as the 23rd state to the Union that year. There were a couple of dry spells anywhere from seven to fifteen years that made the closeness of the annular rings hard to count, until I got a magnifying glass. Dendroclimatology, (I looked it up) is the science of determining past climates from trees (primarily properties of the annual tree rings). Tree rings are wider when conditions favor growth, narrower when times are difficult. Anyway I got to work and armed myself with a diamond shaped splitting wedge, a seven-pound splitting maul and a five pound sledge hammer, and gloves as I have soft hands.

I’m not necessarily a tree hugger (although I have and I was sober) but have always sensed a quite vibrancy around trees, especially those that have burst through the canopy to reach out to the shine of the sun. When I first came to Windsong I walked the woods pulling down all the parasitic vines choking and mitigating the vigor of the trees. I swear I could hear a warm bark of gratitude, much like when someone is having their back scratched; know what I mean?
Now here I was splitting the marvelous appendages of the Monroe tree; it still capable of demonstrating an inherent strength of cohesion against my splitting efforts (note to myself … think about purchasing a log splitting machine); It was, after all, a mighty red oak: Stringy, odoriferous, dense and heavy, each bucked log offered more resistance to my efforts than I had ever experienced. Tired, but wanting to do just one more, I bent down to turn over another one of the 40” diameter logs, when it slipped from my bear hug and the bark tore shallow, parallel gashes down my right arm. I had to go into the house to stem the flow of sap, I mean blood. Then back to work. I would clean the striations (the language of a geologist) later of the greenish substance ground into my skin from the hoary bark. 
I finished later than I had planned and went into the house and fixed dinner, turned on the TV and ate from where I sat on the couch. My eyes became heavy and I turned off the TV for a quick snooze before I showered. Previously, one of my dear and close friends, a Jungian expert on dreaming, told me that while I claimed I didn’t dream, I most assuredly did – and that I would be able to recall my dreams if I didn’t go to sleep with the radio on, which I have done all my life.
Well she was wrong … I didn’t dream – technically – instead I had a nightmare.

It turns out that the James Monroe tree was used for the hanging of a cattle and horse thief. In this case a widow’s milk cow, and her plowing mule that she used to feed and support her twelve children.By chance, in the nightmare, I came along to visit my son. He was gone on a service call, so I decided to rest and fell asleep under the tree. I awoke screaming as it had picked me up in its hoary branches and began squeezing and then dropped me to the ground; where I lay bleeding, then suddenly small oak branches began erupting from my broken skin. I was turning into a tree. I begged and implored the James Madison tree to release me. It simply sat rooted, and stoically ignored me, that is until I shouted out that I was the last of the Crabtrees. Immediately my skin cleared of all eruptions and I sat up with a knot in my stomach.
Now I make certain that I have backup for my bedside radio. I’m just not a dreamer Mr. Jung.

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