Clare County Review & Marion Press Columns

Postcard from the Pines: Tree Time

I come from a long line of tree lovers of one kind or another. Great-grandpa Milt Beebe came to Osceola County as a boy with his father Raymond, in 1873. They settled in the well forested Highland Twp, chosen, in part, because of the standing timber and the location of a creek through the section. The Beebe’s cleared their land and soon established the first upright, water-powered saw mill in this area. The Beebe family, three generations of them, in-laws included, lumbered in Osceola and Clare counties into the 1920’s.
Milt appreciated good trees, living and growing, as well as logs cut into lumber. The family milled the lumber used to build, first Rayme and Jane’s house and barn, later Milt and Lillie’s. Milt was very proud of his barn, which was built to last from cedar boards. And last it did, coming down within the last thirty years, more than a hundred years after it was built.
On their cleared land Milt and Lillie planted many apple trees, a much loved Balm of Gilead, a member of the cottonwood family, and weeping willows along Franz Creek which ran behind the house. Trees also marked the small family graveyard of lost babies. A white pine and lilac set by the tiny stones. The white pine grew to a venerable age and girth before it was struck by lightning in the 1990’s.
When Fern and Frank Berry bought their property on Blevins Street in the 1920’s they began planting trees. It joined silver poplars, apple trees, a pair of Norway or red pine and a white pine. Grandma enjoyed all that the tree offered; shade, a haven for birds, the beauty of its growth and even the cones which fell in great abundance.
When I was a kid, the brave among the tree climbers of Blevins Street scaled it to the top. I never made it past the first limb, not really wanting to leave the ground. The brave also got into big trouble for their climb. One or two had to be retrieved from the uppermost limbs by angry parents. It was a large tree when I was a kid and it is a mighty one now.
One of Grandma’s favorites was a weeping, cut-leaf, white paper birch. The Berry’s planted it in the 1940’s. It was a much coddled tree brought here from Munising, a living souvenir from their teaching years there. Grandma fought attacks from sap-suckers and smaller unseen creatures. She fed it concoctions of food and repellents with a soaker hose contraption and worried that winter’s ice would break limbs.
Grandma, being her tree loving father’s daughter, always hoped to have a grove of trees, or a stand of pines, on her property on Blevins. In about 1960 she ordered and planted, with the aid of neighborhood Boy Scouts, a quantity of pines, white, black and Norway spruce, some hemlock. These two foot tall trees were planted in four rows at the back of her property, behind the garden and asparagus patch and along part of the property line. Many evenings found Grandma walking in her pine plantation, as she called it. She later planted several rows of red pine to the south. In her minds’ eye, these young pines were already forty feet tall.
Grandma respected the old trees and planted a new one whenever the urge struck her. She added a mountain ash to the front yard because she knew robins and cedar wax-wings liked the orange berries it bore. She could not bear to have the old, brittle transparent apple tree in the back yard cut down, even though it was hallow.
One of the last trees she planted was a weeping willow, against the advice of almost everyone she knew. No one understood why she would want one of those ‘dirty’ trees in such close proximity to her back door, and no one could talk her out of it. She ordered a large one and kept the hose running at its base its first summer. There had been a weeping willow just outside Milt and Lillie’s back door in Highland.
When you approach Marion from the west, after the leaves have fallen, there is a point where the mighty white pine stands above all other trees in the neighborhood. The pine plantation, or what is left of it, makes a fine showing as well. She would be pleased and I’m sure they are everything she hoped they would be. Every day was Arbor Day for Grandma.
Grandma loved trees at any time of year, but when fall rolled around, she loved them best. Fern Beebe Berry Bontekoe would be happily celebrating her 125th birthday in the midst of another Michigan autumn next week.

  • * *
    We were saddened to learn of the passing of life-long resident, Ken “Fuzz” Richardson this week. Marion, Michigan lost a true leader, a war Veteran who was a fine example of the local ‘just do it’ kind of thinking. Ken was a long time member and served the VFW as commander in his later years. He oversaw many Old Fashioned Days chicken cook-outs, marched in many parades and was there to honor many of his comrades and friends at their passing.
    Ken was the driving force behind the Marion Veteran’s Memorial, conceiving of the project, raising the funds and seeing it through to completion in a record amount of time. And he has been on hand to plant the red, white and blue petunias around the monument just before Memorial Day, almost each year since. Ken Richardson and his wife Helen raised their family east of town on the family farm, where he was born. The property became a centennial farm 2016 and he proudly displayed the Centennial sign in his yard.
    Our condolences to Ken Richardson’s girls and their families. He was, indeed a good man, a good neighbor and a friend to many. I will miss his always cheery greetings, great stories and information. I’ve lost a wonderful ‘answer’ man. I wish I had asked more questions.

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