Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Catalpa Farm and Jack Rabbits


This is a passage from the book I started reading this morning: "In the spring they set about to make the place a bit less forlorn. In an effort to break up the farm's treeless monotony, Harry planted a grove of catalpa trees along the property's edge. The big spreading trees, distinctive for their long seed pods, took hold, and the farm was known informally ever after as the catalpa farm."
Now that could have been a name for the farm I grew up on. There were two catalpa groves I remember from my childhood. The first, and closest to the house was a double row, north of the barn, close to the east fence in the lane down to the little pasture. If you were walking down between the rows, the last tree on the left was my 'wishing tree'. And the reason for that was one time when my older brother and his buddy Norman, our neighbor boy, were picking on my sister and I, I wished for Normie to fall out of the tree as he was climbing it. The limb he was on broke and he did fall to the ground. In my fable and fairy tale fed mind, that made it a wishing tree. I thought anything I wished on it would come true. The last wish I remember making there was that our old pony, Queenie, wouldn't die.


The catalpas were a part of another childhood memory. Betty and I had a play house in the corner of the barn. We had watched Mom can green beans and decided to play like we were also canning beans. But our beans were those long seed pods from the catalpa trees. We filled a few jars with water out of the stock tank, added the 'beans' and put the lids on. Mom didn't find our jars of beans until they were quite 'ripe'. Boy the stink when she dumped them out  I don't know if she was ever able to use those canning jars again.

The other grove of catalpas was along the fence between the field and west pasture south of the barn up at the other place. We didn't go up there very often. But when I think of those trees I think of one thing -


Jack rabbits! Seeing a jack rabbit was a rare sight. They were already becoming scarce in our part of the state. At one time they were more plentiful, but settlement and the farming of row crops destroyed their habitat of wide-open prairies. The only place I remember seeing them was in the field across the road when it was planted to clover or alfalfa. They were easily distinguished from the cottontails by their long ears. I can remember Mom calling us to "Come quick. Look, there's a jack rabbit!" I think they were all gone before I was a teenager. I should ask my little brother (younger than I by 10 years) if he ever saw them.


I think those catalpa groves were planted because they grew quickly - desirable for a windbreak. But they only live for fifty or sixty years. When I moved back to the farm in 1995, both catalpa groves were gone, but there were still a few younger volunteer trees growing. One of those was in the orchard where we had our mobile home. I loved the smell when the trees flowered. The blossoms didn't last long, but their perfume was heavenly. I would have been okay with calling the old homestead the catalpa farm.

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