Under the Schoolmarm


Yesterday we had a powerful November storm blow through, with whipping southerly winds in the morning, an hour or two of torrential rains and then winds coming from the northwest. I kept a close eye on the leaning spruce tree in the corner of our yard because the ground underneath it was bulging with some of the bigger gusts and I was afraid it might uproot and fall across the street. While I was out checking on it, I noticed the tallest tree in the photo above, the one that appears to have two tops (actually there are three), has a vein of dead wood running through it just below where it splits into three trunks. Once the winds started blowing out of the northwest, I was a little nervous about it splitting in two, or three, and coming down through my roof. It reminded me of the many long, windy nights I spent laying awake and afraid as a child as I waited to be crushed by the giant double-trunked tree that towered over the house I grew up in.

My dad, a logging truck driver, called the tree a schoolmarm. Why he didn’t cut it down when he cleared the land for our house, I don’t know. The thing was a monster, twice as tall as the other trees around it and close enough to our house to crush it if it fell with an easterly wind. I can remember lying there, huddled up under the quilts as I imagined the tree crashing down on my house, killing us all. Or, maybe killing the rest of my family, leaving me trapped and bleeding, all alone in the wreckage. I remember asking if the tree would hit our house if it fell, hoping for reassurance that it wouldn’t. My dad, always a worse-case scenario guy, said that it probably would. Perhaps it was his fondness for predicting certain doom that made him leave the tree there to have something to scare me with, not that his detailed descriptions of what would happen in the rapture hadn’t already done a good job of that. The tree killing us was the least grisly of the fates I often imagined and worried about….

Anyway, back to yesterday. I got to thinking about the term “schoolmarm” and I wondered why a split-trunked tree would be called that. Since my neighborhood almost never loses power, I was able to look it up online. Apparently, the way the two trunks of forked trees always grow close together reminded someone of the way they imagined a prudish old school mistress’s legs would be pinched together. It’s no wonder my dad never told me why a schoolmarm was called that! He was never one to swear or talk about anything the slightest bit vulgar. As I looked through the list of logger’s terms, I saw a few I was familiar with, like calling a crew bus a “crummy,” but many I wasn’t. I don’t know if my dad ever used language like that around his fellow loggers but he sure never did at home.

Today, there are many trees down all over the area but my “schoolmarm” and the spruce that was rocking in the ground are still standing. The spruce we will have to have taken out so it doesn’t kill someone on the road or sidewalk. The “schoolmarm”…I don’t know. It looks healthy and it’s stood there longer than my house has been there but perhaps we should contact the HOA to have their arborist come out and look at it.

Of course my dad, being a logger, says it should come down, or at least be topped.


4 thoughts on “Under the Schoolmarm

  1. That’s one thing my childhood home and my current place have in common is a towering backyard tree. The one at my old home was scary because of how lopsided it grew out… despite the trunk being split evenly between ours and our neighbor’s yard, most of the branches grew out over our yard. And it only got worse considering most of the branches the tree lost over time were on the neighbor’s side. I don’t think it was a danger of falling on our house, but it would’ve decimated the power lines leading to our meter had it toppled. The damn thing’s still standing today, though, and might very well still be standing even when I’m not anymore…

  2. It’s funny that both of your homes have had towering backyard trees! It’s amazing how some of them just keep on standing despite being terribly lopsided. I didn’t get to find out how long our monster of a tree would stand because my dad cut it down one day while I was gone. I was so mad! I wanted to hear the big thump when it fell.

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