Old dogwood tree shows great perseverance

Published 1:09 am Wednesday, April 8, 2020

short rows headerThis was to be the winter that we removed the old dogwood tree.



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It had been a tough decision. The dogwood stands right next to the driveway, about 30 feet from the road. It was one of the first things I noticed when we came to look at the farmhouse that we would buy from Mr. and Mrs. Henry Crook back in the early 1970s and would henceforth call home.

I’d never seen a dogwood that big and, in fact, there weren’t many. When the Department of Forestry began its Big Tree Program about the same time we moved out here, I told Forester Larry Willis about the tree. He measured it, entered it in the program, and it was ranked second largest in the state. That position didn’t last long because other, larger ones were soon found.

Still, it was OUR big dogwood. And it was an important part of the family. When the children were quite small, we encouraged them to play in the yard all they wanted, with one rule — “Don’t go past the dogwood tree” — which would provide a margin of safety from the highway. They, and grandchildren since then, dutifully adhered to the rule.

The dogwood was where they waited for the bus. When it stopped and the lights were flashing, they would run to get aboard.

For a while, John and Beth were accompanied down the lane (that’s what country folk call long driveways) every morning by their pet Peking duck, Donald. The duck would wait until they were on the bus, then waddle back up the lane. In the afternoon, Donald would instinctively waddle back down the lane shortly before the bus arrived to drop them off after school.

And then, there was Every Morning, a mockingbird that took a liking to the kids. It would fly to the dogwood every morning while they were there and “talk” to them while they waited for the bus.

That lasted until Every Morning got bored talking to children and began playing with the cat. I warned him to quit taunting the cat, but he didn’t listen and one morning I found a pile of gray feathers.

But back to the tree. It has been dying by degrees for years, and for the past two or three, there has only been one large limb producing leaves and very modest blossoms. It continually drops dead limbs and this past winter we made a decision to have it sawed down. We suspected even that last limb would be dead by spring.

But then came the woodpeckers. I noticed a lot of chips and sawdust at the foot of the tree on several occasions and then one morning I caught sight of a pileated woodpecker flying away from the dogwood. It had been years since I’d seen one of these spectacular birds, though you can occasionally hear their rapid-fire tat-a-tat-tat in the woods.

We saw the big bird (they grow to 16-plus inches) several times, then one morning when I turned into the driveway after a trip to town, there were two of them on the dogwood, one on either side, dismantling the old tree a peck at a time.

We actually thought for a while that the pair might be nesting in the tree, which made us reassess removing the dogwood.

“I guess we can’t take down the tree now,” Anne said.

They weren’t nesting. They were just feasting on insects in the tree bark. When they’d eaten all they could find, they left, and haven’t been seen since.

But then the dogwood, like an old codger just refusing to throw in the towel, began putting out buds on that one big limb.

I guess we’ll still get around to removing the tree, but I sure do admire its perseverance.

(I also found this week that I needed to write about something — anything — other than this damned virus. Stay safe, everyone.)