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Bye-Bye Blue Spruce

My favorite thing about Colorado blue spruce trees is that they burn well.

Really well. Like kerosene. Like a tire fire. (Or “tahr fahr,” as we say it, but don’t get me started on hoopie dialect.)

I am well-acquainted with how well blue spruce burn, having just chainsawed down and burned up four very large ones: 40-footers that my dad planted that many years ago. I cut them down because they were dead, or nearly so.

Dad had been proud of those trees. He planted a dozen blue spruce along the boundary between a farm field and the backyard of the old Miller farmhouse. They were once beautiful: lovely tall ladies dressed in frilly frocks of blue-green, their attire spruced-up each spring with a jacket of silvery new growth. Dad died in 1992, long before these stately ladies began their horrific transmogrification into towering desiccated skeletons.

See, I can write all poetic about them, but it’s not sincere. I’ve never liked Colorado blue spruce. They’re too pretty. Too perfectly shaped. Too stiff. Their needles are prickly. They don’t make good timber logs – too many knots, too crooked, and they tend to have multiple trunks. Give me an Eastern white pine or a Norway spruce – evergreens with some character and value.

It didn’t help my opinion of them that we once had a blue spruce Christmas tree. After I hurt my back getting the heavy, stiff thing into the house, the darned tree gave off the fragrance of cat pee.

I can’t tell you exactly how many years ago the lower branches of Dad’s blue spruce started to die, only that once it began it was gradual and inexorable, from bottom to top. My sister Col. Peggy her husband General Doc, who live in the house and have been watching them die, agreed something had to be done. Our plan has been to gradually remove them and plant Norway spruce as replacements.

Cutting and hauling them away is a lot of work, but I enjoy chainsawing anyhow. Most of the previous ones I dragged up to my house with a tractor and cut them up for bonfires. At least they were good for something.

As of last Tuesday, only five of Dad’s blue spruce remained. That was the day I went to the monthly equipment auction at the Rogers sale, hoping that perhaps this time they would have Norway spruce and I could get them at a good price. A two-gallon spruce from a nursery costs $39 and up, which illustrates why cheap people like me look for them among landscaping items in the monthly auction.

MY HOPES FOR NORWAY SPRUCE were dashed once again . . . however, there were lots of small but healthy-looking Douglas fir and Canaan fir up for bid. I consulted with Col. Peggy by phone and she was OK with the alternate species. I won the bids and got 10 of each – 20 trees for a total $140 cost.

Incidentally, there were also a number of big five-foot blue spruce at the auction, and some of them went for over $25 apiece. Don’t people know that blue spruce are dying? I see raggedy half-dead ones everywhere in people’s yards. Fungus diseases are killing them, and there’s darned little anybody can do about it.

I was especially glad to get the Canaan fir because they are hardy and resistant to those fungus diseases; plus they’re a species that originated in West Virginia.

With my winning bids I suddenly had 20 trees to plant and still had five big blue spruce to remove first. If I planted first, it would be just my luck to have one of the trees fall the wrong way and crush a newbie.

One blue spruce at the far end of the row I could ignore for now since we would not plant near it.

For the other four, I sharpened the chain on my professional Stihl with the 20-inch bar (yes, I own a professional grade chainsaw, purchased new at Vernon Dell six years ago). On Wednesday, the day after the auction, I quickly dropped the other four – boom, boom, boom, boom – each of them exactly where I wanted it to go. (I discovered long ago that the best way to drop a tree where I want it to go is to see which way it wants to go, and then decide that’s where I want it to go, too.)

I worked the logging chain and General Doc drove the Kubota, dragging the heavy trees in sections across Gas Valley Road and down into the old pasture bottom, circling to snuggle them close as possible to a pile of huge trunk sections of white oak. I dragged the oak there years ago so it could rot, which it has shown itself to be in no hurry to do. I thought, fine, then; maybe it’ll burn with about a billion BTU of dead blue spruce pushed up against it.

Doc and I have been working that burn pile for the past four days, me doing the chainsawing and hand piling, and him using the Kubota’s front-end loader to put logs where the fire is burning hottest. When the fire really gets going I suspect astronauts can see it from the International Space Station, and I would not be surprised to hear on the news that global warming alarms have unexpectedly sounded.

Good. We could stand some warmer weather around here.

AS FOR DIGGING HOLES for the 20 new trees, Honey took pity on me and recruited a work party to help. Son-in-law Snickers brought two grandsons, Lamppost Head and The 747, and our younger son Worshrag sacrificed some Saturday morning time away from his girlfriend.

It pleases me to think that perhaps someday when those Douglas and Canaan fir trees are 30 or 40 feet tall, the grandsons will remember the day they helped Grandpa plant them.

(Fred Miller’s new book of 100 stories, “Falling Under Honey’s Spell,” is only $10 and available locally at Connie’s Kitchen, Davis Bros. Pharmacies, Frank’s Pastry, Giant Eagle Calcutta, Green Marble Coffee, Museum of Ceramics, Pottery City Antique Mall, and at fredmilleratlarge.com.)

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