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Amsterdam, NY ,



The honey locust

Friday, August 22, 2014 - Updated: 7:21 AM

Gleditsia Tricanthos. She's American all the way, our honey locust tree, with family sprawled from Texas to Massachusetts and millions of points between. She is said to like moist soil and river bottoms, but she's been happy in our yard longer than any of us have been alive.

The boss's dad said that she's been here since at least the '20s. Photos from the '50s show her standing strong and tall. She's seen a lot in all those years, war and peace, cows and horses, fancy folks and plain, fun and work, mourning and joy.

The kids' sandbox nestled under her wings. Swings dangled from her branches like charms on a bracelet and many a tiny farm was built among the hollows in her roots. I still dig plastic cows and horses and odd little people out of the earth in the shade of her leaves, when I till the flower beds there.

Each year in spring she flowered in candles and in fall dropped thousands upon thousands of leathery seed pods. It has ever been my task to rake them out into the driveway, so many that there were foot-high windrows of them, chocolate-brown and darkly crunchy.

Such pods were often hammered open by imaginative children and the flat, tan seeds within magically transformed into bales of hay for those tiny horses and cows or hauled up to the creek to be made into "soup."

The pulp on the inside of the pods was used by Native Americans as real food, and can be used to brew beer as well. Can't say as I would recommend that use for them and I am not tempted to eat them either. Goats like them though.

Our old matriarch saw young men going away to fight in wars, then coming home again, and friends who weren't as fortunate.

Birds came and went too. At least one pair of robins always used her branches, building cups of grass and string, and rearing crowds of spotty pups to bounce around the lawn like beagles rioting for worms. Starlings raised hundreds of pesky broods of loud, ill-mannered young, in cavities in her trunk.

During our time here, the suet feeder hung from a lower branch, where the short lady who filled it could reach. The downy woodpeckers grew so tame after generations of bringing the kids to feed when they fledged that they don't fly off until you nearly touch them. This can cause abrupt wakeups when you walk under the feeder with an armload of laundry for the clothes line that also depends on her strength, and a pointy little black-and-white bird nearly flies in your ear.

A Wilson's Warbler once brought amazement to her limbs, an exciting life-bird passing through in autumn.

She has always seemed content to support hooks with hanging flower baskets, the clothesline, and an array of birdfeeders that defies all common sense.

She kept her children close. They pop up everywhere, despite the faithful raking up of all those pods, delicate, lacy-green compound leaves, cute as bunnies, but just waiting to spawn thorns the size of No. 2 fish hooks.

Only straight. The better to stab you if you picked up any of the limbs she heedlessly shed with alarming regularity, or Heaven forbid, drove over in careless ennui. Those thorns would win out against a tractor tire, hands down. Or points up, as the case may be.

I admit to tormenting some of her kids a bit, when they popped up in the flower beds. I have three turned topiary, limbs tied up in loops and whorls, and even knots in their infant trunks. Alas, they are just a few feet from the house and don't face futures as long as hers has been, but they sure are cool looking.

Trees of her species are said to grow to a maximum of around 80 feet. With her crown towering at least half again higher than the 74-foot steeple on the house, she must be a mature specimen indeed. Trees of her ilk are fast-growing and generally live to 120 years, although 150 is not unknown.

Alas, as mentioned, honey locust trees are notorious for dropping limbs just for fun.

Some years back she threatened the house, so the boss's late mother hired some tree folks to do preventative lopping. They had impeccable aim and managed to drop a big branch right on grandma's power line. She was 16 days without electricity, which was all kinds of fun.

Now the time has come for the old tree to again lose her head. This time a true expert has agreed to take on the task, so hopefully all will go well.

I am not quite sure what we will do without her, there beside the kitchen. From holding the clothesline up off the ground, to shading the garden pond to keep the algae down (she does fill it with pods in the fall, so that's a mixed blessing) to keeping the mint and chive plants safe from the lawn mower with her gnarly roots, she is a big part of the culture around here.

I can only hope that she will be like her son, who rooted, up along the heifer pasture fence. His thorns were mighty and he was always in the way, so one fine spring fence-building day, the boss lopped him off at the knees.

You would never know it now. He is as tall as ever, and his thorns love to dangle at hat level, to grab unsuspecting fence walkers as they pass, minds firmly fixed on wires and pliers.

Maybe the Grande Dame of the back yard will do the same.

If not, well, there is the one up in the pasture, and another near the long lawn, a favorite singing place of song sparrows and gathering spot for cedar waxwings.

And the lawn, as always, is filled with little seedlings, just itching to grow and tower and live for a century or maybe longer.

Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS

is a regular columnist. She blogs



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