Cowboys and Indians. It was the game of choice for boys my age sixty years ago. It was fueled by popular television series of the times, like Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Bonanza, and Wagon Train.
The cowboys used the BB guns. Someone got a new one every Christmas, it seemed. The Indians had to use homemade bows and arrows, and an occasional spear. One of those spears pierced my brother’s eyelid, sliding between his eyeball and eye socket. Except for all the blood, he turned out to be fine.
The Indians usually hid in the woods, with an occasional teepee constructed from limbs and an old tarp. The cowboys needed forts to survive. One was built on the old train bed in the woods behind our house. We dug a trench to enter and covered the room with tin we salvaged from the peanut mill. It lasted for years, and it was here I learned some of the secrets of life.
Over time, we needed another fort, further away from home, on the frontier so to speak. On a Sunday afternoon on a Fall day, much like today, we built another fort, cutting several of the planted pines on some property on the back side of the football field.
The cowboys and Indians both lost that day as the widow lady who owned the planted pines called my dad about the hole in the ground and the freshly cut trees. Like Opie Taylor, my brother and I would not rat on our friends, but we had to go up to Miss Effie Jones’ door and apologize. We then spent the next day filling in the hole, cleaning up the cut trees, and planting some young pines. Lesson learned.
Over time, I became fascinated with trees. We had an enormous oak tree on the back of our property in Cottonwood. My favorite memory of my great-grandfather was walking in the yard one day and asking him how old he thought that big tree was. He responded, “Well, I reckon it is about as old as I am”. He was 75 and died the next year.
Moving to Donalsonville after college, I found a town with streets lined with Water Oaks that were magnificent in their time. However, they had a life expectancy of about 75 years and started dying off about the time of my arrival. It was a shame the community didn’t replant them as they died out.
Our home in Donalsonville had dozens of trees. Every few years a hurricane would take out a few of the largest pines. The cost to have them removed was always about the same as my insurance deductible.
Hurricane Michael came along, and we lost 48 trees in our yard. By the grace of God, not a single tree hit our house, though everything else was destroyed. I learned a lot about removing trees that year.
Today, I watched as a company removed another giant Water Oak from the back side of our property in Auburn. Whether it was lightning, stress from this Summer’s drought, or the end of its 75-year life span, the tree was dying.
It was a particularly challenging removal because it was behind our home and leaned over a major power line. Enter Tip-Top Tree Service that had a piece of equipment that is a marvel to behold.
The truck was parked in front of our carport, reached over the buildings, then over the power lines, and then used its adjustable claws to grip a branch. An attached saw cut the limb, allowing the long arm to remove the limb without it falling to the ground.
I spent most of the day watching someone on the ground maneuver the saw and claw remotely, like he was playing a video game. I was like a kid back in Effie Jones’ planted pines, marveling at a felled tree.
Abraham Lincoln once said that if he had six hours to cut a tree down, he would spend the first four hours sharpening the axe. I wonder what “Ole Abe” would have thought about this enormous machine that leveled a huge tree without an axe at all.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com