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The Grandfather Tree
by Lee K.

A huge old sugar maple stands in our front yard. By huge, I mean taller than a three-story house and more than four feet across at its base. My daughter named it The Grandfather Tree, when she was very young. It defines the house and I think maybe holds its spirit.

Our house is a rambling old farmhouse that’s been changed and added on to at least half a dozen times since it was first built in 1863. We moved in 12 years ago and have given it a number of facelifts in the way of paint jobs and re-sidings. Someone mistakenly gave it new windows in the ‘50s so it no longer has that authentic New England look.

But this tree, that stands out front, displays the age of the place even better than the old house. We don’t know for sure, maybe the man who built the original house also planted the tree. More likely the house is located where it is because the tree was already a beautiful part of the landscape and he wanted his house next to it. 

There is something about sitting underneath it’s huge craggy branches that always brings a sense of calm, a sense of peace. In the summer, every year, it leafs out with a thousand healthy green leaves just as if it were a young buck of a tree and provides our house with much needed shade. It must have been hit by lightning at one point as one whole side of it is hollowed out and blackened. A great many creatures now make their homes inside it. In the fall it turns its leaves a beautiful gold and orange as if to show the other younger trees how it is to be done. In the winter when its branches are bare the Grandfather Tree shows his age. Some of his massive limbs look like they are ready for a rest. And yet, year after year it finds the strength to stand bare but majestic against the brutal winds of another Vermont winter.

I like to think of all that these two, the house and the tree, have weathered together.

A lot was happening in New England in 1863, the year the house was built, as well as in the rest of the country. Some Vermonters had left their homes for a chance to strike gold out west.

The Transcontinental Telegraph System had put the Pony Express out of work two years before and most importantly our Country was in its second year of civil war.

In the same year that a gentleman by the name of Young Nay built the house, Abe Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in the South. The Union would win battles at Gettysburg and Vicksburg and President Lincoln would deliver the unforgettable Gettysburg Address.

The only Civil War Rebel Raid to be fought on New England soil would take place the next year in 1864 just down the road from the Grandfather Tree in St. Albans, Vermont. Confederate soldiers had orders to steal funds from Northern banks to support their cause. The raiders took approximately $200,000 dollars by robbing local banks but most of the gang was soon apprehended and tried by a Canadian Court that was sympathetic to the Southern cause. Although some of the money was returned, the raiders were set free. That raid was the northernmost action of the Civil War.

Like most things, our house looks a lot different now than it did then. So, for that matter does Grandfather Tree. I don’t know what trees or houses acquire through time. But I do believe some important element of life is absorbed by that which endures the longest. I heard a commentator on public radio say this morning that ‘terrorists can seem to do what they want in today’s world; ...but that life and trees go on.’

I like that. I like sitting under that great old Maple Tree and imagining all the others who have sat there over the years, and what their world might have been like.

See Also:

Simplifying Simple
A simpler life can be launched with a concept so simple it takes only a few words. For me, simplifying your life is not to add another "should." It's simply to recognize that your degree of happiness equals your degree of compassion.

Iron Lung: A True Life Story
I worked for Hope as an attendant being a nursing–school student. I was taken aback when I first saw this woman living inside a tank called a respirator.

Eyes Are The Mirrors to Our Soul
 I will never forget the look in this kitty's eyes as she looked back at me at the receptionist's counter. We were her last hope. If, as I've always heard, the eyes are the mirrors to the soul, Cassie reflected something to me that day, a vision of the commonality of spirit of all living beings.

M. Lee Conrad is a writer with more than 20 years of experience writing for newspapers, magazines and newsletters. Her weekly column, "A Look Back," is a feature on American history which answers the fascinating question, "how did they used to do it?" http://lckcommunication.tripod.com/index.html

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