Oak-solid memories at the grand library of evolution

The old oak tree’s leaves rustled the mumble of a humble greeting fit for a being of such age, causing me to pause and look up at its arthritic-twisted trunk and branches.

There, in its gnarled bark, reflected the captured history with faces of the many generations who’d stood there before me.

“He who owns a veteran bur oak owns more than a tree,” Aldo Leopold wrote. “He owns an historical library and a reserved seat in the theatre of evolution.”

The twisted oaks on our farm up on Eimon Ridge have great stories to tell about this place’s people and its land. They have an entire Leopold library full of stories that include all that an old homestead can offer.

They’ve seen several generations of the Eimon family and a couple generations of the Larson and Schultz families enter the front door of the old farm house, which was built in the mid-1800s.

They’ve seen buildings rise and leave the old homestead, some of the spots where old buildings stood marked these days only by a piece of foundation rising out of the dirt or by a simple dip in the farmyard’s soil.

They’ve heard and seen countless gallons of sparkling spring water bubbling out of the ridge and down into Timber Creek.

They’ve seen the good times and the bad times; known wars with few spaces for peace.

They’ve felt the extremes of the Upper Midwest’s cold and heat; felt drought and deluge.

My brief stop under the oak came to mind the other day when one of our neighbors mentioned that they were likely going to take down the old red dairy barn on their family farm.

The reason has never totally been defined, but hearing those words always make rural folks step back and assess things. Few ever want to see the demise of an old barn, even knowing the removal is important for everything from aesthetics to function and safety.

Nostalgia runs thickly, good or bad, through the veins of folks such as us here in the northern Driftless Area. That’s especially true when we look at our beloved barns, which long have stood so proudly as symbols of all the hard work that happens on the soil of our ridges and coulees. All that happened on the land was done in homage to those barns.

I think back to the barn built on our old home farm over at Veefkind, and all that building has meant to me. It was built with beams hand-hewn by Henry Borne Veefkind, my great-great grandfather. A day will arrive, I realize – perhaps yet in my lifetime – when that barn also will have to be removed from the landscape.

Should the old Veefkind barn be razed in my lifetime, I hope to save at least a few splinters or even an entire piece of its beams to occasionally touch. Such a thing would be my way of linking the spirits of six generations of my family who’d also touched that hand-hewn timber.

I suspect my neighbors will do something similar, if they decide to have their old barn removed.

Whether I ever get a piece of the Veefkind barn’s beam or whether our neighbors keep a few pieces of their family’s old barn is inconsequential in the big picture, I suppose. Our ancestors who built those structures left behind structures much older than ours to find new soil to mold and nurture.

Though important to so many of us, the nostalgia we feel about those barns will pass with our own demise; we being but blinks in time’s eyes.

What goes on here is of some import to those of us who reminisce but, after our short stays, only the soil and those old oaks will be left to decide what was important.

Someone a couple generations from now will look into that old oak’s bark and see its memories of our short presence. In it will be the structures that were built and then disappeared, dreams realized and dashed, and hope lost and found.

And someday down the line, even that twisted old tree will be but a memory added to the soil.

— Scott Schultz

3 thoughts on “Oak-solid memories at the grand library of evolution”

  1. Ahhh, but that’s the trick. Those old wrinkled trees have so many stories to tell. So many barns up and down. Each one is wholly important to the memory of each of us and enters time’s memory as a sweet song sung by many voices and held in the memory of the trees. Thank you for remembering, for being in the shade of trees singing your song. 🙏🏻♥️

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  2. Oh the old barns! We cherish their presence as we drive the country roads. The barns of our childhood still stand strong, one in Clark Co the other in Dane. The memories they hold from years gone by will linger and be repeated til we are no more. The horse barn where I spent my time, the cows, pigs, young stock, all had their barns, all cleaned, bedded, mangers filled with hay and grain.

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  3. Scott: this a wonderful reflection. We clearly as you have asserted, individuals have an impact on the land and the flora. More though it is the history of men and women on the land, a collective grace for better or worse. To hearken to Wendell Berry, a man and woman on a farm are creators, artists making something good on the land and of the land. After their time the raw material remains fallow for the next generation. Berry bought his old family farm, from back over a hundred years. He farms with horse drawn machinery, feeds his sheep for wool. Gardens vegetables and flowers. This seems the larger thrust he writes continually. Two books of essays, added short stories to his mythical community in norther Kentucky. His impact on the land is small and light. He would have it that way. Ready at any time to make yet another image of the Maker. Press on my friend. You and spouse are close to the Kingdom. Blessings and grace. 🙏🏻♥️

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