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March 8, 2002

The loss of so many beautiful old trees in Perry and the surrounding area as a result of the recent ice storm has stirred a lot of memories for long-time residents. Some of these recollections are sad to contemplate, like the loss of a member of the family or an old friend. Those pleasant, leafy sentinels that once graced the lawns of homes throughout this area and gave a definitive image to our courthouse park have been decimated or totally destroyed. We pay tribute to the effort by pioneers like Mr. Will Little, who helped our city change from a treeless stretch of prairie to a verdant oasis. The courthouse park in downtown Perry has been often pointed out by visitors as a lovely, restful place to relax on a pleasant day. Now some of the finest of those trees in the park and elsewhere have been removed because their boughs were broken by a heavy coating of ice. The costly result is now providing us with an abundant supply of firewood, mulch and timber. For the most part, those trees can be replaced, but it will take years of growth before they again dominate the landscape in Noble county.

Even before this winter’s ice ravaged all varieties of trees in this area, American elms were staggered by a blight that has swept this country. The disease threatened to make American elms extinct altogether, but I’ve been told that arborists have discovered that one strain of the variety was able to survive. The result is a new crop of disease-resistant American elms, and they are available through the American Elm Society. My information is incomplete and I don’t know how to get in touch with the people who are spearheading this movement. Other varieties are available and a good nurseryman can direct you to them. We need a few modern-day Will Littles to get a new crop of trees planted as soon as possible.

One of the problems we have to deal with in this area when planting trees (or lawns or gardens, for that matter) is the density of soil. Many homes, parks and businesses are sitting atop something like clay mounds, tightly packed almost to the point of impenetrability. Other considerations also have to be faced and the situation varies from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Several years ago, when Mr. and Mrs. George Newton were my next-door neighbors on Elm street, we were talking about planting some trees and trying to decide on hardy varieties that could survive the vagaries of Mother Nature. We agreed that we would settle on one type and both of us would plant the same kind. George offered to do some research and soon came up with a good possibility. During a business trip to Oklahoma City, he noticed that city crews were planting rows of trees along Classen Boulevard. He learned that they had chosen Moline elms because of their durability in Oklahoma’s rapid-change weather. Like most trees, once their roots were established they required little attention. We ordered some and had them planted in our yards. That was perhaps 50 years ago, and I see that some of those trees are still thriving, although the high school parking lot has covered most of the old neighborhood with a slab of concrete.

George also told me that when he and his son, Ted, built the Newton Funeral Home at the corner of 7th and Jackson streets they had a large lawn to develop. That place is now the location of Brown-Dugger Funeral Home. The soil was so tight, he said, that several varieties of trees were unable to send out roots, and they died. For a solution, he recalled an old trick from his days on the farm when similar problems were encountered.

“We hand dug a hole a few feet deep,” he said, “and buried a charge of dynamite, then set it off. That usually loosened up the soil enough that we could plant crops, or trees, or anything else. When we tried that at the funeral home, it worked just fine. We did have an inquiry from some of the authorities about the explosion, but they didn’t make us take out the trees.” As you can see, they are still there amidst a healthy lawn covered by weed-free grass. Many old trees like those planted by Mr. Newton are no longer with us, but there’s nothing to stop us from replanting, even if it takes a charge of dynamite to make it work.