Dad’s Tree

He’d said that when he died he wanted to be buried under it. The reason being he had already ‘died’ under it one hot afternoon back in ’56. He had just finished cultivating the field and had parked under it to look out over the valley. The whole farm actually. And a good part of a few more. There’s a reason the hawks and eagles like to perch up there. It was an exceptionally hot windy day and I can conjure up my own memories of how nice the breeze feels up on that hill in the shade of that pine. I have done it too many times to count. It’s one of the main reasons I keep the headlands sown down to grass so it’s always easily accessible. It stops erosion dead in it’s tracks too. If that five acres is the difference between making it and not I’m cutting the deck far too thin to win.

I call it Dad’s tree. When I’m talking to those brothers and sisters that know the tale they know which tree I’m talking about. The summer of 1956 western Iowa suffered a severe drouth. That afternoon after Dad had stopped to cool himself under the shade of the pine tree up on the hill north of the building site by close to a quarter mile he said the corn below him on the bottom by the creek pasture turned white before his very eyes. He said he saw his own life as a farmer slipping away with it. As corn dies from lack of moisture it tries to save itself by rolling it’s leaves up tight to preserve the moisture in the corn plant. The waxy hairy underside of the leaves is a shade or two lighter in appearance than the shiny deep green leaf top. As it further withers away and dies the plant will lose all of it’s green tint gradually turning white. Once it’s white even a rain can’t bring it all the way back to where it would have been.

He dug the hill out between the upper barn and the house to form one wall of a pit silo and he hung a few strands of snow fence on poles to form the other wall. Then he neighbored with everybody on the road to cut the shriveled crop into corn silage. He bought some drouthy cattle and put them in the cattle yard to feed them the silage. After a couple weeks they seemed to be doing worse and becoming lethargic so he asked his father to come out to the farm and have a look at the cattle and give him some advice. Grandpa took one look at the silage and told Dad he was starving the cattle, there was no corn grain in the corn silage. Fortunately Dad had some of the season before’s corn crop still in ear corn form in the crib. Once Dad had added some of that to the ration the cattle turned around at the same time the cattle market turned around and Dad said he made more money than if he’d had a good corn crop.

Dad didn’t get his wish as to where he was buried. No one but me thought much of the idea and I’ve never followed through with my threat to move his body there secretly some night. But he did get to die with the old tree. The pine trees all gradually died and when Dad’s tree was dead Dad didn’t make it much further. It was like the Pines were acknowledging the old man’s passing by jumping on the band wagon as it went by. Or was that the dead wagon. As he withered they withered. They still stand almost as grand as the years before they died. His memory still stands as grand as ever as long as I’m here to recall it. I was able to sneak a small dead branch from Dad’s tree about six to twelve inches long into Dad’s coffin on top of his chest so in essence he was buried beneath it if only a part. If he never knows it will never matter. I have a gut feeling someday he will know and I hope he appreciates the gesture for what it was.

Sleep easy Old Man. I will man the trees.