Friday, January 08, 2010

Frank Knight and the 240 year old tree

Seven or eight years ago, I wrote a feature on Frank Knight of Yarmouth Maine. I was editor/publisher of The Monument Newspaper at the time, and Mr Knight's stature as the 90-plus-year-old tree warden of the Town of Yarmouth, Maine was of interest.

During the course of the interview, I learned much about trees, dedication to one's chosen profession, and also about courtliness. Mr Knight is a gentle man, in both senses of the word. He showed me "Herbie", New England's oldest and tallest elm tree and told me that the tree had been standing since before the Revolutionary War. It was something special to be able to put your hand on a living thing that pre-dated our nation's birth. The direct connection to a long-ago time was an opportunity one doesn't forget.

My challenge for the photograph was the man and the tree. The tree was too large to get a good photo of it in its entirety that would also show the man next to it who had nursed it for five decades. Mr Knight had cared for the tree through the Dutch Elm disease (14 times!) scourge, droughts, and development. But now the end has come. Not for Mr Knight, still going strong at 101 years young. But for Herbie the Elm Tree. It will succumb to the chop, having blossomed its last leaf. It is succumbing to Dutch Elm disease at long last. (Photo source and information about The Herbie Project)

The photo I eventually chose to use in my feature article was one that I remember to this day. It was of Mr Knight leaning against Herbie with his hand on its trunk, his other hand in his pocket, and a smile on his tanned face. Mr Knight's nearly 100 year old hand on the 240 year old trunk were almost indistinguishable. His aged gnarled knuckles, made all the rougher from years as a logger in his youth were similar to the gnarls and bumps of the old bark. Yet both tree and man stood proud, serving their purpose with dignity amid tremendous changes around them over the course of the centuries.

I can't find the photo now of Mr Knight leaning against his great love, Herbie, and I wish I could. But the memory of my brief encounter with this courtly man and his tree remains vivid. Today there are many news outlets picking up on the story of the soon to be accomplished tree-felling, starting with the New York Times. There is quite a stir and hubbub online from the US to Canada and beyond about the loss of this tree. But I prefer to remember the affectionate, quiet moments with Mr Knight on a summer day in far-away Yarmouth Maine, his faithfulness to history, and his dedication to roots of all kinds.

240-Year-Old Maine Elm Tree to Be Chopped Down
YARMOUTH, Maine (AP) -- The massive elm tree that shaded the corner of East Main Street and Yankee Drive was sick. Like so many others in so many of America's towns in the 1950s, it was stricken with Dutch elm disease. Tree warden Frank Knight was so smitten with the tree that he couldn't bear to cut it down. After all, it had been standing sentinel in this New England village since before the American Revolution.

Over the next half-century, Knight carefully nursed the tree, spraying for pests and pruning away the dreaded fungus, even as the town's other elms died by the dozens. As he succeeded, the stately tree's branches reached 110 feet skyward, its leaves rustling in summer breezes off the Royal River and its heavy limbs shouldering winter snowfalls.

more at link.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope you'll find that photograph. It's an extraordinary story about an extraordinary man & an extraordinary tree.