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SPOTLIGHT
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Living among the red cedars

Published on -1/23/2014, 10:23 AM

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Only God can make a tree, the poet tells us, but I'm wondering whether the devil is getting into the tree business.

Recalling that a weed is a plant growing where you don't want it to grow, I see weedy cedar trees everywhere I drive in Kansas. The only place where we want cedars to grow is in windbreaks, but they are devilishly easy to find in pastures.

The last time I checked, most people only wanted grass to grow in pastures. But you can see cedars growing all across the state. Down along Highway 35, the 20-foot cedars nearly have taken over one sizable pasture, and many other grasslands are threatened.

It was Joyce Kilmer who wrote "I think that I will never see, a poem lovely as a tree; tree that looks at God all day, and lifts her leafy arms to pray." Then the poet ends with this: "Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree."

These hardy cedar trees are devilishly hard to kill. When they're young, a mower will do the trick. Give them a year or two to spread their roots, and you'll need a hatchet to chop them. If they survive past that, you'll need a saw or brush clippers.

Far be it from me to get into the tree business, or the poetry business, and I don't want to pick on farmers either, but this is an area that needs attention. This is a place for that old admonition: "A stitch in time saves nine."

Actually, I like cedar trees. I attended the Bird City machinery show, and they sawed several red cedar shingles for me. These shingles are pretty, and they smell nice ­-- in my den. Cedars also remind me of funerals and rural churches because the wind blew sadly among them in Mount Hope Cemetery, and I smelled them at every local funeral.

But the really useful job for these trees is breaking the howling Kansas wind. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt told us to plant windbreaks during the Dirty Thirties, we planted cedars in almost every grouping. They grow close to the earth, they're hardy and might be called the "poor man's evergreen (or ever-brown)." When my family lived in Oklahoma, the farmers gave away similar trees. My daughter and I chopped a free Christmas tree and spent $20 for white flocking to make it look like it was covered with snow.

When I was a pupil at Oriole School District during the Great Depression, Morse Abbott and I cut down a scraggly cedar along White Rock Creek and it became our school's official Christmas display.

When I first noticed the cedar incursion some years back, I even saw them growing in the Willa Cather Memorial Grassland south of Red Cloud. I wondered if they were non-natives that would spoil the authenticity of native grass. No problem. I found a scientist's description of the Solomon Valley back about 1870. It was a relief to find cedars listed among the original native plants.

So, if they do take over pastures, at least they will be among friends.

Darrel Miller lives near Downs in rural

Osborne County and is a retired weekly

newspaper editor.

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