He loves his trees — but not for two weeks

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

When the Secretary of the Interior and I first married, we lived in lower North Mankato, down in the Minnesota River valley. In fact, we were so close to the river that one could have seen it out our back window — if a 20-foot high flood wall had not been in between.

Old-timers told us the neighborhood had been flooded a couple of times in their memory. The greatest advantage to living there — besides the fact that the wall prevented one from having to replace all the furniture on the first floor and the furnace in the basement every 10 years — was that the soil was unbelievably fertile. We could grow anything on that flood plain.

One thing the secretary and I have done all the places we have lived is to plant at least one tree. In North Mankato, we planted two on the boulevard. We also have named all of our trees. Those two were named “Ashley” and “Thrifty.” Ashley received its name because it was an ash; Thrifty got its name because it was on sale.

The last time I visited them, about five years ago when they were 30 years old, they looked like they had been there forever. Their trunks were massive.

Since then, we have moved four times. Our lot in Little Falls has about 30 trees on it. We planted the last two, both red maples, which we named “Big Red” and “Little Red.”

I am particularly proud of “Little Red” because it is still only about three feet tall, but it is the first seedling that I have managed to avoid running over with the lawn mower. It came up naturally. “Big Red” came from a nursery, so had about a 6 foot head start on its cousin. As I write this, “Big Red’s” leaves have all turned pink, and “Little Red” still thinks it’s summer.

However, we love all of our trees, and it is an exceptionally wide variety. We have five oaks, Four of them require one to wear a football helmet during the last two weeks in August, while the fifth is much smaller and a little weird, not losing its leaves until spring.

Another four are towering sugar maples. A fifth maple is a Norwegian maple, which will the last to lose its leaves., usually in early November.

We also have a couple of birch, three ash, a couple of flowering crab-apple trees, a mountain ash and a butternut tree.

And then we have about 14 evergreens. I don’t know the varieties, but five of them shelter the house to the east and the other nine stand guard to the west.

The nine on the west are particularly nasty. They have six-inch long needles and shed faster than a retriever in springtime. If they had their way, no vegetation would grow within 50 feet of their trunks except their babies.

The other day I was at an appreciation potluck for the Gardening Committee at Linden Hill. Denis Dolan, who chairs the committee said that Linden Hill has 300 trees, and that each tree loses 200,000 leaves each autumn. I don’t know where Denis came up with that number, and some arborist may disagree, but it sounds about right to say that volunteers pick up 60 million leaves each fall at Linden Hill.

So it is that I don’t mean to whine about the measly 3 million leaves and 10 zillion pine needles that we have to pick up each fall. However, as much as I love our trees, I get a little grouchy toward them this time of year. In fact, in another week, I’ll be looking rather fondly at the saw in the garage.

When we lived in Duluth, our lot was half the size of the lot in Little Falls. We had perhaps 15 or 20 trees on the property, but all but a half dozen were in a small wood lot that we shared with a neighbor. The great thing about it was that our lot ran downhill to the woods, so each fall, we just raked downhill until we got to where the grass ended and left the leaves to decay.

In Little Falls, we don’t have any place to put them. The first year, we tried to pick them up and bag them ourselves. After my back went out, I decided that there needed to be a better way.

A year later, I bought a double-bagger riding lawn mower. This helped a lot, except the chute frequently clogs, particularly if even five drops of rain fall on the yard like they did last Saturday.

I have so many leaves that it takes only one pass around the yard before the bags are full.

The end result is that even though they have been mulched, I have enough to easily fill a two-and-a-half ton truck.

Now our system is that I pick up enough leaves to keep the grass alive, and then at the end of October, we hire a couple of guys to give the yard one last going over and to pick up the pile that I have already accumulated.

` I hate spending the money, but better to give it to them instead of spending it on physical therapy. I also have a rule that no one should climb on their roof over age 50 because the chances of falling off steadily increase above that age. In addition, if you fall off, you probably won’t survive. The leaf pros, being considerably younger, go up there and blow out the eaves.

I consider my survival to be an added benefit.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Contact him at (320) 632-2345 or by e-mail at [email protected].