Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Kansas Ice Storm

Our Red Bud Tree
The weekend of January 13-14 we had a wonderful trip planned to see the showing of Home on the Range, a newly released docudrama about our Kansas treasure near Smith Center--the cabin where the lyrics to our state song were written.  Instead, the Smith Center Premier was postponed one week by the ice storm that hit Western Kansas.  We did attend the premier the following weekend, and next week's blog will share that wonderful weekend, but this week is devoted to our epic Kansas ice storm and reflections on nature's hardships for our early settlers.

At the front corner of our home is a red bud tree that has been there as long as I can remember.  As is their nature, this red bud has continuously recreated itself by sending up new trunks as its elders die.  It survived through more than a quarter century when the old house was vacant.  But, the ice storm was a fierce opponent in comparison to drought and neglect.  We may try to shape up what is left of the tree, but it really suffered.  (See "Emulating Isaac," 8-14-2014 in the blog archives, about transplanting seedlings, including a red bed seedling.)

Our ancient cottonwood
The blog I posted about cottonwood trees has been one of readers' favorites, many of you sending comments admitting how you love these old trees.  Isaac B. Werner wrote in his journal exactly how he started his cottonwood trees from 15" cuttings, which from his arrival in 1878 to 1885 had resulted in 3,400 trees on his 320 acres, with plans that year to add 2,000 more cuttings.  (See "Cottonwood Trees, posted 12-2-2011, to read my original post.)  Since publishing that post, many of the giant cottonwoods in our area have died, their silver trunks lying on the ground like fallen soldiers, and many more are likely to have fallen victim to the recent ice storm.

We have very few left on our home place, and this old beauty lost most of her limbs, what remains looking more like a giant slingshot than the arching shade tree that it was before the storm.!

In 1944, my parents returned to the farm following my grandfather's stroke, and they planted three rows of elm trees south of the house to block the hot, south winds.  They probably chose elms because they are fast growing, but they are also susceptible to broken branches in Kansas winds, and very susceptible to ice damage.

My parents planted the elm tree rows too close together and they tended to reach for the sky in an ongoing competition with their neighbors for canopy space.  The result was tall, naked trunks and crowded crowns.  The ice collected on the upper branches and the weight brought them down, leaving trees that look more like poles than shade trees.
Limbs litter the ground

Elm trees are trashy by nature, and a stroll across the yard nearly always involves picking up fallen branches along the way.  However, the litter on the ground after the ice storm was monumental.  I dragged branches into piles that my husband could pick up with the front-end loader of the tractor, trip after trip (both for me dragging the limbs and for him carrying them away.)  We had hired professional tree trimmers last summer to help clean up our trees, and we were so pleased with how they looked.  Not so much right now!

Limbs covering the garden

Some of you will remember my blog about our vegetable garden in the old chicken house foundation.  Since posting that blog, we have moved the vegetable garden to a sunnier location, but the foundation continues to hold my herb and flower garden.  In the photograph at right you can see part of the foundation, as well as the orange water hydrant, and somewhere beneath that litter are my herbs and perennials.  It was one of the first areas I cleared.

As I worked, I thought of the early settlers, using manpower and horses, mules, and oxen to remove the dense prairie sod to clear fields.  I recalled Isaac's pride as he watched his cottonwood cuttings take root and grow, representing countless hours bent over sticking the cuttings in the ground, followed by constant weeding sand burrs and stickers, as well as sunflowers competing for the water he hand carried to the young trees.  I remembered his labor hand picking potato bugs off his plants and his joy when his carefully tended peaches were in season.

Elm trees stripped of limbs
Perhaps thinking of Isaac and my ancestors as they worked this prairie soil is some explanation for why I grieved for the loss of favorite trees that we had loved, but I also felt a kinship with the land.  I know that many of these trees will never be beautiful, but they will struggle to survive.  They will send out new branches in the spring, and already branches bent by the weight of the ice have arched upward determinedly, looking better than I had dared to hope they would.  Many of them can't be saved, but next spring the seeds they released in the summer will sprout.

Mother Nature gave us an ice storm, but she followed it with calm, sunny days and milder temperatures than are usual for January.  It was actually pleasant when I was working.  It's looking better now--but I was very grateful to see David Wood and his crew arrive to help us pick up the debris we hadn't reached.  Thank you so much, guys!  We are on the waiting list for the crew that worked at the farm this summer with their tall-armed buckets, this visit needed to reach the limbs hanging overhead dangerously.  Mother Nature will surely send winds to bring down some of them, but we are among the lucky ones who suffered no damage to buildings from falling limbs--thanks to the tree trimming last summer.

Next week I will begin sharing our wonderful visit to Smith Center for the premier of a movie you will want to see and more about the history of our state song!


Mitch Minnis said...

Sorry for your loss of trees. I can't imagine our little 80 acre homestead without them. Our dozen or so 5" diameter oak trees around our house we planted survived unharmed. However, the 30 acres of prairie cottonwoods down the draw we're not so lucky. Some, bigger than three men can wrap arms around. These are the century old giants I often walk upon and run my hands across the deep crevasses of bark and "talk". Funny, I doubt I'm the only guy that talks to trees. I would have loved to have met Mr. Werner.

Deborah Ludwig said...

So sad to see these lovely trees at end. I'm torn between Robert Frost's lines in separate poems, "...that for destruction ice is also great and would suffice" or

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

I heard from both of my cousins who recalled fondly the beauty of the trees when we were children. RS remembered his regret when the towering cottonwoods that lined the driveway were taken down in the early 1960s. ABC recalled their beauty, but I know that she remembers the old sac swing tied on one of the highest branches of a cottonwood--what a ride!

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

MAM from South Dakota shared their experiences with an ice storm in 2013. "The damage lingered--trees that looked like they would survive have since needed to be cut down. And there are many funny shaped trees in town. The day after the storm though was beautiful--a terrible beauty it turned out. It is so sad to see a tree go, especially prairie trees that are scarce to begin with."

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

GS recalled, "Brought back memories of cleaning up my parents' farm several years ago."

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Recalling the majestic oaks of his childhood in SC, ER wrote, "It took some adjusting to acclimate to Kansas trees--so many of them book like they've had such a hard life. But I also came to understand that indeed they have, with the Kansas wind, heat, drought, ice, and other elements, and they wear that haggardness as a badge of endurance."

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Mitch, you are definitely not the only one who talks to trees. The first red bud tree I transplanted about 3 years ago promptly dropped its leaves and looked dead for weeks. I kept watering it talking to it. Some would say it was the watering that brought it around...but I think appreciated the encouragement! Now it is about 5 feet tall. I'm glad I didn't listen to those who laughed at me all those weeks when they had given up on it!!

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Deb, I love the quotes...and thank you for telling me I may have been overlooking the OK to post! Now the path is clear!!!

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Pilot VH wrote that the blog "...brought back memories 'long forgotten.' One memory being there in our home garden in BYERS, I picked the bugs off potato plants & some of those long green worms off Mom's plants. Often think of our wonderful youth experiences...from potato bugs to jets--it has been a wonderful ride."

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Pilot VH wrote that the blog "...brought back memories 'long forgotten.' One memory being there in our home garden in BYERS, I picked the bugs off potato plants & some of those long green worms off Mom's plants. Often think of our wonderful youth experiences...from potato bugs to jets--it has been a wonderful ride."