Tomorrow I’ll make my annual trek to town to pick up our tree order from the Natural Resource District.
With a variety of trees available, we’ll bring home the junipers and cottonwoods most likely to grow in our neck of the woods. We’ll throw in a couple of rolls of landscape fabric, a product that’s really improved in quality over the years. And, if history repeats itself, I’ll bring home more trees than we have the time or energy to plant and give some away around the neighborhood.
I come from a long line of people who appreciate trees. During my maternal grandfather’s younger years he worked for the U.S. Forest Service. A portion of his career there was spent planting trees. Our frequent treks into the Black Hills and the Bearlodge Mountains often included stops at the area’s largest tree, a look at tall trees and sometimes a stop at a tree he remembered planting. One such tree had flint underneath it, something he thought I should know if I ever needed to start a fire while in the woods. I hope I never find myself in that position, as I’m not confident in my ability to start a fire with a rock. We peeled paper from the birch trees, cut Christmas trees and dug seedlings to add to our yard.
When my mother and her sisters were youngsters my grandfather would often take them to the timber to gather pinecones. The pinecones, collected in bushel baskets, were sent to a nursery in Nebraska for rearing into little pine trees. A portion of those trees likely came back to the Black Hills in regeneration efforts after timber was harvested.
In the early 1980s in northeast Wyoming, our National Forest provided jobs for many during economic hard times. All one had to do to see its impact was drive through town. From men who smelled of sawdust to pickups carrying firewood, the evidence was abundant. Beyond the folks who worked for the Forest Service caring for the important resource, the timber industry was important to many and continues to be today. Some worked as lumberjacks, some ran equipment and so on and so forth. I remember a neighbor who literally spent his summer cutting firewood and making piles to sell in the fall.
Beetle killed trees, due to my grandfather’s lessons, aren’t a new concept for us, but we never saw them in the quantities they appear today. He’d point out a patch of orange trees here or there and relate the cause. It was further explained in the blued lumber he liked to use in building projects, a product of the affected trees. Many of the beetle-killed trees he saw became firewood to heat his home. As a kid who didn’t much care for packing, stacking and splitting firewood, I never could quite grasp my grandfather’s love for gathering the stuff.
My grandfather planted almost as many trees in his own yard as he did in the National Forest. In addition to his shelterbelt and yard, he kept small seedlings at the edge of a garden, ready and waiting for someone in need of a tree. One time we planted a peach pit to see if it would sprout. It made a start, but didn’t survive the winter. I was fairly disappointed. I also watched him plant the acorn off a burr oak just to see if it would grow outside of its native territory. When he ran out of room in his yard he started planting trees in my folks’ yard. My mom inherited grandpa’s love for trees and I don’t know that a year has gone by that she hasn’t added a tree to her yard.
Some of my grandfather’s trees came from the local conservation district. They provided the shelterbelt surrounding his house and the one at the house where I grew up. Step one around here is to build the house. Step two is to surround it with trees. As the old saying goes, the best time to plant a tree is yesterday. I’m reminded of this each time I drive by the neighbors’ place. While I don’t know them, I’m a little jealous of the small forest they’ve started here in our sagebrush sea. But, I think they got about a 40 year head start on us.
If you missed this year’s seedling tree order at your local conservation district, be sure to get on the list for next year. Be sure to thank them for offering this great service in our communities, making trees an affordable addition for many of us. If you just can’t wait until Spring 2013, swing by and I’ll give you a cottonwood, a juniper or dig up a lilac from back by the clothesline.
Jennifer Vineyard Womack is executive director of the Wyoming FFA Foundation and a freelance writer. She can be reached at Womack@Wyoming.com or at 307-351-0730.