Remembering the “Meeting Elm”

When a Des Moines Sunday Register article appeared yesterday featuring the “Peace Tree,” a 513-year-old Sycamore now barely visible in Lake Red Rock, I was reminded of a similar story that shows how works of nature anchor us and preserve our stories.

When we moved to Carlisle, Iowa in 2003 to inhabit a 150-year old farmhouse on eight acres, one of our first duties was to learn the history of the place. Fortunately, the son of the original owner lived across the road with his wife. Bob and Ann Fleming, now both gone, generously shared details not only about the house, but also about the land itself, including one famous tree.

Originally, an orchard of fruit trees edged the north side of the house, the area where we planted a prairie. In the middle of the orchard was the “Meeting Elm,” the largest in the vicinity and the site of many gatherings of Scotch farmers. The meetings were usually serious in nature–matters affecting the livelihoods of these farmers and their families–but it was customary for someone to bring a keg of beer. Bob Fleming told me that periodically fights broke out. In one particularly raucous gathering, one man bit off the ear of another. The famous elm died around 1900.


Later, in talking with Bob about how fascinating I found all that he and Ann had shared with us, I mentioned that my favorite story was the one about the Meeting Elm. At that, he teared up and began to cry.

“You stop that right now!”¬†he scolded himself.

Was he moved by the recollection of the tree? The fact that now others were carrying on its story? I don’t know but it demonstrated how connected we are with the nature that surrounds us.

As we become more mobile as a society and as land is cleared for development, we’ll have fewer opportunities to develop long-term relationships with specific trees, lakes, hillsides, rocks, prairies. That saddens me–and makes me want to look around at my immediate surroundings with greater appreciation.

Is there a tree in your yard, neighborhood, or community you want to relate to and remember?  Or one you already have a relationship with?  Share your story with us.



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