A Tale of Two Trees

Two trees in our backyard -- both are now in tree heaven.


I’ve always liked trees. We had a big elm in our front yard when I was a kid and I actually used to climb up pretty high into it and sit for a long time — doing nothing, of course, but I do remember enjoying my time up there.

I lived two blocks from the northern frontier of Minneapolis suburbia in the ’60s and my grandfather lived a couple of miles away in an outpost of a few houses amidst the nearby farmland. He had a bunch of trees (quite a few, actually) growing in neat rows on the edge of his large yard that he had raised from seedlings. I never really thought about why he did that — I don’t remember him ever selling any or anything, but I learned a lot about trees from him. Mostly, though, I remember that he seemed to be endlessly watering them. Maybe he planted them just to get out of the house and move the hose around, I don’t know.

Trees seem like they should live forever, so it’s sad when one dies — especially when it’s in your yard. I had to cut down an ornamental apple tree last week that didn’t make it through the winter. I didn’t enjoy that one bit. It was one of a pair that we planted about 8 years ago. For a couple of weeks at this time of year, they erupt in brilliant pink flowers. This year, only one of them did.

The twins in happier times (2006)

It appears that some type of critter ate its way through the base and destroyed enough important parts to put it to death.

It was murder -- no obvious motive, however.

So this was sad, but nowhere near the scope of the one we lost a couple of years ago. On the other side of the yard we had the largest elm in the neighborhood — hands down. It was an amazing beast. If you look at Google Maps satellite photo you’ll see that it covered nearly the whole back yard and the house. (I don’t know if that photo is still up, but it was recently)

The big friendly giant in 2005.

Knowing that this tree was susceptible to Dutch Elm disease and fully appreciating what a loss it would be if it had to be taken down, we began to have it inoculated on a regular 3-year cycle. That worked for about 10 years. Then one day we arrived home to find this:

The dreaded orange circle.

To make this already too-long post a little shorter than it could be, I’ll just say that we begged the city to let us try an experimental drug (on the tree, not ourselves) for a year. Our tree-man said there was a 5% chance it would work. Long odds — but people buy lottery tickets every day. Plus, because the Rainbow Tree Care guarantee said we got a refund for the last treatment if the tree got the disease, this miracle drug was almost free.

Of course, it didn’t work and we had to have it cut down, finally in October of 2007 (again we begged the city to let us keep it until fall).

The gruesome task begins.

We had been getting bids on tree removal for over a year, and the prices were shocking. The first bid was $8,500. We had one for $14,000!!!! Finally, when the time actually came, we found Matt, who owns “Extreme Climbers” tree removal. He and a couple of helpers did it for $4,500 — which seemed like a bargain and a big relief.

Matt and his band of merry men finish the job.

Here’s how the yard looked after the deed was done.

A drastically changed landscape

It made us sick to look at the yard. Mrs. D. was depressed for the two years leading up to this and said we should sell the house because her yard and garden were going to be ruined.

Here’s a reminder of what life was like under the tree.
Mrs. D. and Emily under the canopy.

So this too, shall pass (as they say) and life marches on. You play they hand you’re dealt. You make lemonades out of your lemons. We planted another tree nearby, but on the actual historic site of Big Greeny, we did some other things. The yard will never be the same, but I think it’s turning out OK.

Life goes on.

The little maple tree we planted won’t ever be as big as the elm, and we’ll never see it reach it’s full height, but I think my Grandpa would approve — and I know he would like the way I water it.

As the old Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.”

Happy Earth Day . . . to Cleveland

And so this is Earth Day — and what have you done?

The push to establish Earth Day as a national day of paying attention to the environment was spearheaded in the late ’60s by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. As activists tried to gather support in June of 1969, something happened in Cleveland, Ohio that was so ecologically repulsive that it provided timely visual evidence of the need for the effort.

The polluted Cuyhoga River caught fire, as it had several times over the years.

In his 2002 book, “Beyond Earth Day”, Senator Nelson wrote about the significance of that event.

“In June of 1969, the Cuyahoga River — slick with oil and grease and littered with debris — caught fire and shot flames high into the air in Cleveland,” he wrote. “That image, widely circulated in the popular press, burned its way into the nation’s collective memory as the poster child for environmental atrocities of the time.”

Former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson in 2001 (Wilderness.net)

Here is an article with videos about the fire and what’s happened to the river in the past forty years.
http://www.cleveland.com/science/index.ssf/2009/06/cuyahoga_river_fire_40_years_a.html

Randy Newman wrote a catchy song called “Burn On”, about the blazing river and about “Cleveland, city of lights, city of magic”. I doubt if the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce features it on their website, but it’s a wonderful little song. Newman released the song on his 1972 album called “Sail Away” — one of my top 10 albums of all time. There’s only one YouTube perfomance of that song, and it was recorded 22 years later in a live performance in Berlin.

Needless to say, Cleveland has cleaned up its act (as have most of us of a certain age) in the past 40 years and the water quality of the river has also greatly improved. Clevelandites would probably rather not have us remember when the world was watching them in the summer of 1969, but the Cuyahoga River still “goes smokin’ through my dreams.”

“Burn on, big river . . . burn on.”

I love Randy Newman.

The Daters make their mark at the Charlottesville Marathon

Sunday, April 18th was a great day for both Cedermark and Date families. Emily and Kyle, along with Cederbrothers Craig and Andrew and Andrew’s friend Carianne all finished the race with very respectable times.

No pre-race jitters here. This group exudes confidence. (L-R) Craig, Carianne, Andrew, Emily, Kyle

Emily was the first of the crew to break the tape in a little under 4:20 (the clock doesn’t reflect an accurate time due to a clogged starting line situation). I’m so proud of her! What an accomplishment.

Emily Date -- a winner by any standard.

The Datermarks have inspired me to dust of the running shoes and get off my ass and out in the fresh air. Emily wanted to know if I’d be interested in running the Twin Cities Marathon with her in October. How could I pass up an opportunity like that? Younger daughter Lauren is in, too. So I’ve got some work ahead of me, but October 3rd is going to be quite a day.

Now we just have to talk Kyle into running, too.

Newlyweds Kyle and Emily -- the Datermarks -- looking good at the finish line

I met Paul Nagel yesterday

Like many truly great people, Paul C. Nagel is quiet and humble. He’s also witty and eloquent. I could go on, but since I’ve only spent an hour with him, I suppose I should leave those kinds of words to those who know him best. My friend Rich Cornell is one of those people. He’s been a friend of Dr. Nagel for many years and is currently making a documentary film about his life.

Rich Cornell and Paul Nagel

I have to admit that two weeks ago I had never heard of Paul Nagel. But when Rich asked me if I wanted to meet him and and then Paul invited us to his Minneapolis condominium yesterday, I was fully aware of how special the opportunity was.

Paul has lived his 80-something years to the fullest. Born in Missouri, he earned a Ph.D. in History at the University of Minnesota in the late ’40s. He became a professor of history, a college dean (University of Missouri) and then was named Director of the Virginia Historical Society. He wrote several scholarly books in the ’60s and ’70s, but by 1980 had decided to leave academic life and and write history books that had an appeal to the general public. His most well-known book is one about John Quincy Adams.

John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life - Paul Nagel's best-known book

Here is a partial list of his books.

George Caleb Bingham: Missouri’s Famed Painter And Forgotten Politician (2005)
German Migration to Missouri: My Family’s Story (2002)
John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life (1997)
The Lees of Virginia: Seven Generations of an American Family (1990)
The Adams Women: Abigail and Louisa Adams, Their Sisters and Daughters (1987)
Descent from Glory: Four Generations of the John Adams Family (1984)
This Sacred Trust: American Nationality, 1798-1898 (1980)
This Sacred Trust: American Nationality, 1776-1861 (1980)
Missouri: A Bicentennial History (1977)
This Sacred Trust: American Nationality 1778-1898 (1971)

Rich’s documentary film will be finished in a few months, but first he wants to do a couple more interviews with people who know Paul. Through the years, Paul has become friends with a lot of well-known people, not only in the academic and literary world, but also in politics and the news media.

Rich has asked me to interview one of those people for him because he will be out of town for a few weeks and will miss the opportunity. I don’t want to mention the person’s name yet, because it’s not 100% set to go and I don’t want to jinx it. But if it works out, it will be very cool.

Rich Cornell and Paul Nagel chat in Paul's living room

My hour with Paul Nagel yesterday is one I’ll never forget. We chatted like old friends, even though he didn’t know me from Adam. He wanted to know about my children, and really perked up when I told him my daughter, Emily, went to the University if Virginia and had a summer job as a tour guide at Monticello. He visited Charlottesville often when he lived in Richmond. I was quite touched by the interest he showed in me and my family.

Dr. Paul C. Nagel

Paul is a big person in all the important ways, and I’m grateful to Rich for sharing him with me. When we shook hands as I left, he said, “I’m so glad we had the chance to meet. Now I hope we can become friends.” I smiled all the way home.

(post script to this post — Jim Lehrer (PBS News Hour) was the special friend of Paul’s that I was fortunate to interview. Read my post about that experience here)

The Washburn Water Tower: Scary-looking guardian of good health

People stop their cars and take photos.  Runners push themselves up the hill.  High school kids go up there to smoke dope.  Airline pilots look down and know they’re lined up with runway 12-Right at MSP.  Octagenarians Sam and Virginia Sarat, who live across the street, walk past as they do nearly every day.  The Washburn Water Tower in south Minneapolis is a landmark, yes. But it’s actually more like an old friend to those of us who live near it.  It’s hard to imagine what the top of our little hill would look like without it.

Aerial view of the new water tower and surrounding neighborhood in the 1930s (photo from Minnesota Historical Society)

Similar photo that I took from an airplane in 2006.

This tower is actually the second one built on the site.  The original was built in 1893 and demolished in 1930 to make way for the current one.

Original tower was built in 1893 (photo from Minnesota Historical Society

Current tower under construction in the early '30s, before the scary guys were added. (photo from Minnesota Historical Society)

Our health is guarded (photo by Steve Date)

The tower was designed by three prominent men of the era. Harry Wild Jones, the architect, designed many other well-know buildings in the area, including the Lakewood Cemetery Chapel. The sculptures are by John K. Daniels, who did similar work for other buildings, including figures on the Washburn Flour Mills Utility Building in Minneapolis. The engineer was William S. Hewitt, who also invented a reinforced concrete construction method.

The tower is a cool thing to have in the neighborhood and makes a nice little park with good views. 

Runner and Water Tower (photo by Steve Date)

Last summer (photo by Steve Date)

Follow this link for an article about the history of the water tower from the Minnesota Historical Society’s MINNESOTA HISTORY magazine published in 1984. 

The Masters: A love affair that’s hard to explain

I don’t exactily remember the first time I watched The Masters golf tournament, but it must have been 1961 or 1962.  Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus dominated during my childhood — seven of the nine Masters tournaments between 1958 and 1966 were won by either Arnie or Jack.  What I do remember is falling in love with the game of golf while I was still in elementary school — completely from watching on TV.   Nobody I knew played golf.   I was a golf nerd and probably a pretty weird little kid.

Arnie and Jack in the early '60s

Watching the Masters is a guilty pleasure of mine.   It’s hard to explain.

There are so many things NOT to like about the Masters.  But every April when I see those drop-dead beautiful CBS opening shots of the 12th green, the 13th hole, the Clubhouse — I can’t look away.  When they play highlight shots from past tournaments going all the way back to before my time, my eyes start to well up.  Those memories are part of who I am and what I love to do.  The cynic in me temporarily takes a backseat to the nostalgic golf nut.

12th Hole - Augusta National Golf Club

Augusta National Golf Course was designed by legendary golfer Bobby Jones along with Alister McKensie. The course opened in 1933.  A year later the first Masters (known until 1939 as the “Augusta National Invitation”) was won by Horton Smith.  The Masters is one of the four major tournaments in the world and the only one that is played on the same course every year.

A lot of people don’t like the Masters.  The tournament kept a lot of the feel and tradition of the old south alive for much of its history.   Lee Elder was the first Black player in the tournament when he broke the color barrier in 1975.  Fearing for his safety, he hired body guards and rented two houses in Augusta that year and moved back and forth frequently between them during tournament week.

Lee Trevino refused to play there for a couple of years in the ’70s.  He said the course didn’t suit his game, but given his Mexican-American heritage, everyone knew there was more to it than that.  After Jack Nicklaus talked him into returning to the tournament in 1972, Lee still refused to go into the clubhouse to change his shoes.

Lee Elder, first Black golfer to play in the Masters (1975)

Until 1983, golfers were required to use Augusta National official caddies, who were, of course, African American.  The Augusta National Golf Club admitted its first Black member in 1990 and still does not allow women to join.  I love history, but studying injustice and prolonging it are two different things.  The Masters seems to hold on to the wrong stuff from the past longer than it needs to.

Call me a hypocrite, but I still love the place.  I’ve got too many great memories.  Liking the Masters is kind of like having an old southern aunt who has a Black maid and treats her like in the old days.  You still like old Aunt Augusta, even though you wouldn’t live that way yourself.  And you hope that she’s learned a few things about people over the years, even though you wonder sometimes.

The Augusta National Club is full of rich, white, Christian, old men — many of whom have attitudes about people that differ from mine.  Their prickishness is ever present, but that’s kind of what private golf clubs are all about anyway.  I’ve always had a great deal of ambivalence about the game of golf — loving the game/being turned off by many of the people who play it.   The Masters brings those feelings front and center.  But once I get a glimpse of old Aunt Augusta, with all her faults, I get off my high horse for a weekend and enjoy my time with her.

Fred Couples shares a laugh with his caddie in the parking lot at Hazeltine during the 2009 PGA Championship (photo by Steve Date)

So I’ll be taking a lot of peeks at tomorrow’s final round, even though it’s going to be a beautiful day here in Minnesota and it will be a shame to be indoors.  Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson (both players that I like) are at the top of the leader board.  But I’ll be pulling for Freddie Couples.  He’s in 5th place after 3 rounds.  At 50 years of age, he’s got some of the same childhood memories I do.

Nearly a half- century after I became a fan, Arnie and Jack are showing their years, but they’re still around and still playing.  They were the honorary “starters” this week.  It made me smile to watch them.  Here’s the video.

Those of us who are not members only see Augusta in the spring — and unless we’re lucky enough to get a ticket to the tournament, only on TV.   For us, Augusta is always springtime, always beautiful.  The azaleas and dogwoods are always blooming.  The grass is always perfect and impossibly green.  “Amen Corner” is still one of the truly gorgeous places on earth.  There’s no place I’d rather be this weekend.  Amen.

13th Hole - Augusta National

Sheila gets ’em ready

Sheila Nelson is one of my favorite people at work.  She is a teacher in the “Get Ready” program, which is sponsored by the Minnesota State Department of Education.  It’s purpose is to help 4th and 5th graders learn how to begin preparing themselves for post-secondary education.

Sheila Nelson

One of Sheila’s many duties is to teach two lessons a month in each of the 5th grade classrooms.  The kids look forward to working with her.  She expects a lot from them . . .  and they deliver.

Sheila is 100% in for the kids.  She bends over backwards to help them become better people.  She’s a great teacher and a very cool person.  I’m so lucky to know her and work with her.

For more info about GET READY, go here:
http://www.getreadyforcollege.org/gPg.cfm?pageID=1615&1534-D83A_1933715A=4774290736f0a4828e5a3a0c7b64bb55b336ac07

Sheila teaching my 5th graders