Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

Question of the day: Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed all the dead trees that have fallen recently along our roads and highways?

I’m told that it’s the combination of rain softening up the ground followed by strong winds that has caused more than the normal number of fallen trees.

I’m not talking about the huge live trees that we see on television that have been uprooted and blown into houses and cars and streets by tornadoes and other natural disasters.

Now you may think my ol’ brain is slippin’ and slidin’ like our old pulpwood truck used to do on that muddy dirt road back home at Route 4 after a six-inch rain.

And with that mental picture, come with me as we study that big ol’ dead pine tree that I saw the other day. It had actually fallen across the paved blacktop road, and some good soul had come along, pulled it out of the road, and thrown it into the ditch.

It was such a sad and grotesque sight! Nothing green and growing about it at all. Just an ugly rotten mess with its limbs (branches, if you’re not from Route 4!) snapped off like chewed up toothpicks. It wasn’t even fit for firewood.

After years of decay, either from neglect or bug infestation or dry weather, it had even lost its root system, leaving it standing there with no useful purpose. Already dead, just waitin’ to fall with the first strong breeze.

By comparison, hop aboard my little red time travel wagon, and go with me back to the barnyard at the ol’ farm where we had a different kind of tree. This was a huge oak tree that stood about halfway between the barn and the house. It was called the “Cow Tree.” Why? Thank you for asking, but to this day, I can not tell you why it was called the Cow Tree. Surely, there were no cows growing on it.

But what a magnificent tree it was! A lot of Route 4 living happened around that big oak. Its limbs (not branches!) were big and strong enough to support the old pulpwood-truck tire swings that were so much fun. I see these jungle-gym, amusement-park kind of playgrounds that kids have in their back yards today, and I just scratch the ol’ bald head. But, hold it. Let’s don’t go chasin’ that rabbit today. Save that story for another day.

Back to the Cow Tree. In addition to the tire swings, its limbs also held what we called chain-falls. Heavy logging chains wrapped around the thickest limb were perfect for changing motors in worn-out trucks and tractors, and for stringing up hogs at hog-killin’ time, too. With the power supplied by three or four skinny country boys pulling on the chains.

No telling how old that tree was. I just know that all of us boys couldn’t hold hands and reach around it. As if we wanted to hold our brothers’ hands, anyway! And it was the site of our night-time scaredy-cat games. The monsters were hiding most times in and around the Cow Tree, just waitin’ to reach out and grab whatever farm boy was late in finishing his chores down at the barn.

And, oh, the shade it gave us on hot summer days! I think the phrase ‘got it made in the shade’ actually referred to the ol’ Cow Tree. And if you had the job of sittin’ on the churn while homemade ice cream was being hand-cranked under that tree, you would need your coat or sweater (the only jacket we knew was yellow and had a stinger).

I think about that big oak every time I see another dead and rotten pine tree brought to the ground by the slightest storm. It doesn’t take much of a storm to bring down a dead tree. And when I see where it’s hit and splattered and pushed to the side of the road, I’m thankful for the big oak Cow Tree and the living that went on around and under it.

Surely Joyce Kilmer must have had the Cow Tree in mind while writing the poem that Miss Barron made us memorize at Seneca High School. With appropriate apologies to Kilmer and Miss Barron, I can only remember the first verse, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree,” and the last one, “Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.”

I couldn’t swear to it on a stack of Bibles, but I believe the roots of the ol’ Cow Tree ran all the way down the hill to Coneross Creek. Or least over to Johnson’s Branch. I just know that throughout my memory, it was just always green and growing and serving our way of life. Through all the storms of life, the Cow Tree stood tall. Maybe because it had a strong, thrivin’ root system.

What, you might ask, does that kind of root system look like? Please allow me to refer you to the description offered in Psalm 1:3. According to the psalmist, happy is the person who delights in obeying our Lord, living by His Word, and telling others about what He has done. In fact, that person is like a tree, says the psalmist, that’s planted close enough for its roots to run down to the creek where the Living Water supplies juicy-tasting fruit and beautiful green leaves. And times of play, work, and cool rest for tired boys and girls.

Is your tree of life firmly rooted, green and growing and being fed by the River of Life, giving meaning and purpose to those who pass by? Or is it like that ol’ dead pine tree, just waitin’ for any little storm to blow it across power lines and knock somebody’s lights out?

In the decades since leaving the life lived under the protection, shade, and beauty of the Cow Tree back home on the farm, I’ve often heard this question. ‘If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?’ Wanna know my answer to that question?

I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.