My home for four of my early years was a small room on the second floor of a flimsy 19th century structure originally conceived as a carriage shed and converted some 80 years ago into a dormitory for boys. (The shed was named “Old Boys Dorm,” the reference being to the age of the building, not its occupants. It was then thought that boys and girls could inhabit the same structure without unmentionable consequences.) From the west-facing window above my bed stretched the broad slope of a cornfield dominated by a single tree that gave its name to Elm Lea Farm in Putney, Vermont. It was this magnificent American Elm that first stimulated my thinking about trees and my respect for them.
That elm, a member of a species native to the Northeast, was as tall and graceful as any hardwood can be in the New England climate. Before encountering Dutch Elm disease, an elm was an unusually hardy tree, able to survive temperatures below minus 40. (The same number defines this temperature in both Fahrenheit and Celsius). Our elm, pictured below, was nearly 15 stories high, with a diameter at breast height of more than 6 feet.
I regarded that tree as a monument to power and permanence. It was probably large enough in the early 19th century to be allowed to grow in the middle of the newly cleared field, being nearly useless as firewood and impossible as construction material. It might have lived another two hundred years. It passed in the year 1978 at the age of more than 200 years.
Once an elm is down, don’t bother splitting it for fire wood. No axe or wedge is up to the task. A chainsaw is the only tool you may have that will make an impression. Some strains of the American Elm are resistant to Dutch Elm Disease. I suspect that is true of the many elms planted along 5th Avenue and in Central Park, as they seem in excellent health, though not as tall as the beloved Putney Elm.
Among the nature subjects Fieldstone is preparing for digital launch this year is our volume on North American trees. It's a subject close to our hearts, and one that tells the history of this continent and our nation through a unique and essential lens.
Yours from the field,