When I was a child, the first tree I really knew was an elm in the backyard. There were two more in the front, but the one in back hanging over the sandbox was my favorite. Its trunk was coarse and the bark as irregular as lines on a road map. I was forbidden from every climbing it! But when I was old enough to reach the leaves, I picked them.
The leaves were studied because of their straight “roads” that traveled upward. Maybe it was here that I got the mistaken idea that if you took the right road in life, things went straight and orderly and perfect to the end! If you turned the leaf over, the outer side had the tiniest bit of roughness, like fine grade sandpaper that nudged your face or prickled on your arm. It was green velvet with a kick.
The leaves became money, play dollars in our “store”. They were lettuce or meat slices on our plates inside the little house that where we played dolls. The green slabs lined our ponds in the sandbox where one summer I tried digging to China. I never made it; was I using the wrong spoon?
Then Dutch Elm disease hit. It took almost all the elm trees in town which were numerous because elms were popular in Kansas. It was sad to see our elms go, one by one.
Two years ago when our maple had to be taken out of this backyard, a nice man with a nursery suggested a disease resistant elm. He drove us around and showed us where they were growing nicely in Joplin. I fell in love with the Princeton Elm! We brought one home and have nursed it along ever since. This summer it has grown a great deal….now even offering the wheelbarrow a wee bit of shade on these unmercifully hot July afternoons.
This morning I picked a leaf…smelled it….felt it…loved it. I was transported back to my first elm where I learned about texture, about color, about trees, and yes, about death too. I think I might have been “backwards dreaming”, a new term I learned this week.