Musings of a Simple Country Man: The ‘Abraham Lincoln’ Tree

By Hobie Morris

(Brookfield, NY – Jan. 2011) It was a hard maple giant, standing well over 100 feet, its thick upper limbs spreading far and wide. Almost like a protective canopy over the smaller hardwood trees and ground, it nurtured them like a mother hen over her brood of chicks.

Each spring, I religiously walk my woodlands, searching for badly winter-damaged trees that I’ll later cut up and use for firewood. I take great pride in my forest’s health and appearance.

This spring, I noticed from a considerable distance a large section of tree that had broken off and fallen in amongst several other trees, its branches containing the green leaves just beginning to develop from their buds. Apparently, a powerful late spring northwest wind had snapped off this large section now lying on the ground.

The great giant I had admired for years was not in two large sections, the top on the ground and the 50-foot-or-so trunk that now stood bare and branchless. It was still awesome, but it was not a very sad sight for this simple, tree-loving country man.

A week or so later, chainsaw, axe, steel wedges and splitting maul in place, I began the month-long process (often in humid, 90-degree weather) of cutting up this massive top. Slowly, I worked down the trunk to where rot had weakened the tree and wind and weight broke it off. An antique cant hook (with a homemade beech tree handle) greatly helped me to roll sections of the tree over so I could finish cutting the sizeable pieces.

Eventually, the top was cut and piled into three different sizes: 12 inches for our small cook stove, 16- to 18-inch pieces for our larger woodstove and round limb wood, also for the latter.

I now debated what to do with the remaining part of the tree. I decide to cut it. After a considerable effort, the pounding in of steel wedges and a half a tank of chain saw gas, the severed trunk crashed with a mighty thud.

For a brief second, I felt the ground shake under my feet.

Even 50 feet from the stump, the diameter of the tree is still eye-popping – between 30 and 35 inches. Over the next several days, I slowly and carefully cut – chunk by chunk – my way back to its base. I silently hope that the center rot will run out and that just possibly a short log could be saved and milled into boards.

A little over seven feet from the end, the rot finally ran out! I was elated because I knew I was looking at something very special!

But I still had to two things to do. I’d do the easiest first.

With red marker in my pocket, I walk up through the woods to where the hundreds of pieces are scattered on the ground waiting to be split. I kneel by the stump and carefully begin counting each growth ring. I mark every 10 rings with a red dot.

By using the dots, I can roughly tabulate the age of this giant. Lois came up in a little while and counted the rings from another direction. Give or take a few rings, we count 150 of them! Lots of climatic, soil and environmental factors are involved in a tree’s growth and health. We noticed that several years the rings were almost one-half inch wide – a truly remarkable growth spurt!

One hundred fifty years. This hardwood giant was a thin sapling when the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, was faced with a seemingly irreconcilable sectional crisis. A crisis that would shortly result in a long and bloody Civil War. At the time of Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, the sapling had grown to several inches in diameter.

This tree was healthy and of impressive size at the centennial celebration of Lincoln’s birth in 1909, and his bicentennial birthday 100 years later.

After counting the rings, I sat on the stump, letting my mind wander over the 15 decades that this tree had stood on this precise spot. What incredible changes to our nation and world this giant has witnessed – far more than this simple country man can begin to write down or remember.

Several weeks later, I split the final chunk, counting nearly 50 pieces from it. With the help of my nearly 70-year-old, 13-horsepower mighty red Farmall “A” tractor and a small pull-behind wagon, I bring all of them down, and we stack and cover the rows for future use.

When the pieces are at last processed, I pick from the ground bits and slivers of wood from splitting the tree. I’ll carefully store these in small cardboard boxes and we’ll use them to start our stoves in the winter.

Then my late father, who died in 1967, came to my rescue – and solved my second thing to do.

It’s made of heavy sheet metal – three by five feet in size and built by a blacksmith friend and client of my lawyer father: a stone boat used to haul stones off a plowed field, etc. It hadn’t been used for many years, but it was built to “last forever.”

Looking at the huge seven-foot log, I wondered how I could possibly drag this one-ton object with my tiny Farmall. Then old stone boat came to mind and I thought, ‘Why not try?’

The “boat” was leaning against a shed. Over the years, its end had sunk four or five inches into the soft ground. I hook a log chain onto it, and with my 25-year-old garden tractor slid it up to where the log lay. Then using my cant hook and several short wood blocks, I rolled the imposing log onto the stone boat. I got my Farmall from where I’d parked it.

With the chain hooked, I put the Farmall I first gear and notched up the hand throttle. We were actually moving – log and all! Then the two feel of log hanging over the end caught on the ground, and I pulled the stone boat out from underneath it. I tried again, but this time managed to roll the log’s end onto several pieces of wood, which solved the end catching on the uneven ground.

This time, the “A” pulled as effortlessly as one could hardly imagine – until an unseen root on a turn in the trail caused the log to once again leave its carrier. Repositioning the stone boat, I rolled the log back on, making sure it couldn’t roll off again.

Finally, we broke out of the woods. Lois followed on foot, amazed that I was actually moving this monster with an antique stone boat and tractor.

At the spot I wanted, I rolled the log off the stone boat and up onto two small log pieces to keep it dry and off the ground. Several months later, my good young friends, brothers Wayne and Chris, loaded the log onto their trailer and took it up to Donnie’s who will use his mini-mill and cut from it full one-inch boards.

When milled, I’ll paint the boards’ ends and let them dry until used. I’ll call these “Abe Lincoln” boards, and now you know why!

But then these are just the musings of a simple country man who loves his trees and the feel of Mother Nature’s wonderful creation in his hands.

Hobie Morris is a Brookfield resident and a simple country man.

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