Changing View

The farm’s horizons have changed over the last hundred years. In many early photographs of the Fullington homestead, there are hardly any trees in the background. After the cutover, the Northwoods landscape was studded with stumps, and some old-timers remember having to log in the swamps in the wintertime to have enough firewood.

CCC camps during the Great Depression were a vital force for replanting the Chequamegon National Forest, again changing the landscape and creating habitat for wildlife and recreational activities. On the farm, Wilma planted trees around the farmhouse for shade and wind protection to compliment the stand of sugar maples in the barnyard. These stoic maples already look big and mature from a vintage photo of our farm from the 1940’s.

But storms come and go, changing the landscape. After Grandma and Grandpa bought the farm, a storm blew over one of those great maples and took the tops out of all the others. But Grandpa left them stand, and over the years, all the standing ones grew new upper canopies and thrived. One of them (the swing tree) is estimated by an arborist who took a farm tour last summer to be 250 years old.

Grandma and Grandpa planted red pines in the brushy areas where the Fullingtons used to graze cattle, though Lloyd made Grandpa promise never to plant trees in the field. All down Moose Lake Road, old family farms had been transformed into pine plantations—and all those years of pulling stumps by hand to clear the land vanished. You have to know where to look now to see the old homesteads that are no longer, as the landscape changes from one type of farming to another.

Red pines were added to the barnyard, as well as a silver birch by the sun porch. Some were planted, others volunteers. Many of these trees have grown significantly from even what I can remember as a kid coming up to the farm for holidays. Some trees grow faster than other, but then, some trees live longer than others too.

Wilma’s balsams by the farmhouse started to show their age, as well as a few others by outbuildings. One by the White Doored Shed had started to rot out on one side, making the trunk soft and brittle. In summer storms, it waved about wildly, threatening to loose itself on buildings or equipment below. So a friend of ours came with his truck and chainsaw and helped us pull it down a few summers ago.

At first, it really changed the look of the barnyard. The shadows, the breeze, the skyline. It really took some getting used to, with the almost eerie stump remaining there, a memory of once was. Balsams make nice Christmas trees and wreaths, but they’re not the best defender of the yard, like the massive maples.

Last summer, storms from the south grabbed one of the multiple tops of the balsam by the farmhouse and cracked it right off—amazingly laying the 20-foot-piece right between the dining room picture window, the well, and the bird feeder. That was a close call! Then last year’s infamous September storm clipped the rest of the massive top off at the level of the farmhouse roof and threw it into the garden!

It was time for that tree to go, standing as a branched obelisk in the yard. But all the crews were occupied with more pressing storm clean-up, then winter set it, and the project had to wait for early spring. We took stock of the barnyard, assessing what needed immediate attention, considering storm damage, tree age, and threat to buildings.

In the end, we settled on four balsams. The obelisk by the farmhouse and its compatriot planted by Wilma, and the two balsams on either end of the woodshed. One had lost tops on several occasions already (including the summer storm last year), and the other should have been pulled out an age ago. It was a volunteer, shooting up on the west side of the woodshed with optimism. But as it grew in height and width, the trunk began to push against the building, bowing the wall noticeably inward. Our bigger chicken coop is build close by, so the tree was snug in the middle. Oh, and don’t forget there’s a propane tank just behind the woodshed for boiling maple syrup.

It was a recipe for a storm disaster. Taller than many other trees in the yard, with six tops, any piece falling from that tree had no safe place to go. There wasn’t even a good way for us to get it down. So last week, “The Tree Guys” came with their crew of three to help. They began with the obelisk, tying a rope to its truck to guide the fall, then delimbed the neighbor tree so it could pass the pole-mounted bird feeder unharmed as it laid down in the space vacated by the obelisk. The broken-off tree on the east side of the woodshed was a relatively easy fell, but the one between the coop and the woodshed was quite an ordeal.

Shimmying up the tree, the lead fellow trimmed off limbs, inching his way up to the top. Wielding a chainsaw in one hand and holding the branches with the other, he’d cut off a section at a time, tossing it down to the guys below. It was tedious and at times rather tenuous, as pieces moved unpredictably or the guys clambered up and down rooftops, but after hours of work, the problem trees were down, and we set to work with helpers running chainsaws to cut everything up into pieces and haul it away.

At the same time, we trimmed off branches on other trees (making it easier to maneuver farm machinery underneath), trimmed out the dead center of the chokecherry patch, and had the crew cut some limbs on the red pine by the barn that hung over the roof. In the end, it took two good days of cutting and hauling to clear the barnyard of the debris, and once again the view is changed on the farm.

Morning sunlight streams freely into the farmhouse picture windows overlooking the garden, the roosters look up in the chicken yard to study the sky for predatory birds, and it’s easy to see the front of the barn from our house now. It’s a good feeling, knowing that these damage-causing trees (each of which had 40 to 50 rings on the stump, as a quick count) had come safely down, without damage to buildings, people, or livestock. The stalwart maples and red pines remain, along with the silver birch by the sun porch.

It’s a new view on the farm this spring, growing and changing like it always has over the years. Grandma and Grandpa are coming up to visit over Easter, and we’re keeping the tree-cutting a surprise for them. I’m sure Grandma will be happy that the broken old obelisk is gone! See you down on the farm sometime.