I took delivery of 10 yards of mulch from my mulch and compost purveyor, a 50-something man who was born and raised about 20 minutes from my farm. He wears Carhartt overalls, a camo baseball cap, and spends all day wheeling and dealing mulch and compost from his cellphone. He is unfailingly polite and helpful to everyone who calls, which I know not only from my own calls to him, but also from overhearing him speak to his other clients on the phone while at my place.
He backed his dump truck into the pasture and dumped my mulch. And then we got to talking. He noticed the garden space I just prepared, and noted that the soil looked good. He pointed out the broom straw in my field and told me I needed lime. We shot the breeze about our shared middle schools and the recent wind-fueled wildfires down the road. He walked over to the guinea coop and peeked in, talking to the birds. He noticed the old oak tree near the well house and that it had been topped by a previous owner of this property. Which led us into a discussion of trees. He looked into my woods, said, “Let’s take a walk,” and shut off his truck.
We scrambled around the woodline, and he pointed out all the different trees that grew there. “I used to work for the forest service,” he told me, as he spied an old cherry tree growing amongst a group of “Paradise Trees,” which he said I should cut for fuel because “they’re good for nothing else.”
When he found the big old white oaks further in the woods he stood still, calculating in his head. Finally he spoke. “Now don’t go cutting these just yet. Save these for the future, for when you need a little bit of money.”
It took me a minute to process what he’d meant. A little bit of money?
“I bet you’d get a tractor trailer load of lumber out of these woods,” he said.
It all became clear. He was looking at my woods as a cash crop, something I’d never considered as I’d tiptoed beneath these beautiful old trees, willing them to withstand wind storms and time.
“Well, I kind of would just like to leave them as they are,” I said.
He considered that idea, head cocked to the side. “You never know,” was all he replied. Then he told me a story of a huge old cherry tree, “growing up in the hollow,” that he’d kept tabs on for most of his life and how the minute the property it was standing on was sold, the tree was cut for lumber.
We walked out of the woods and he pointed out scars on the oaks I’d never noticed where an old wire fence had been subsumed by bark. That’s too bad, he said, noting that the embedded wire lost me several board feet of timber.
Our talk turned to the future as he advised me to go back in my woods and dig up any little beech trees or dogwoods I could find to transplant around my house. He looked me up and down. “Not higher than your waist,” he said. “Any bigger and they won’t take.”
Then he shook my hand, climbed back in his dump truck, and drove away.