The spot where Ro stepped down from her school bus was near a picnic shelter next to a happily gurgling creek; of course, half the boys in her second-grade class immediately raced over to start poking sticks into its shallow, gravelly bed. What no one was even remotely aware of was the irony that they were only steps away from where “Kentucky” Coates had waded cross the very same creek a little over a hundred years ago.
It was Friday, May 18, just a few days past Ro’s eighth birthday, and they were on the last of the many field trips Miss Landin had arranged for them during the year. Just completing her third year as a teacher, she had already become every first-graders “hoped for” teacher in second grade. She was not pretty, cute or even pleasant looking, as her features were all in the wrong proportions – eyes too close together, face too sharp, mousy brown hair in a wash-it-and-go, easy to care for, though not very flattering shag cut − but what she may have lacked in looks she more than made-up for in her infectious personality. The kids loved her because she was pretty much a second-grader herself, just in an adult’s body.
She believed in hands-on learning, so she and her twenty-three second-graders had taken at least once-a-month field trips; of course, they’d “done” all the local historical museums and art galleries, but she had also arranged some really “fun” experiences, like a visit a working potter who’d let everyone play with the gooey clay, and spending an afternoon at a recording studio to see how much work it took for a local folk singer and her small band to make a CD.
The agenda for today was to learn about “Iowa’s Oldest Tree” in Five Falls State Park, then take a short hike to the park’s namesake falls and check the spectacular views of the Mississippi from the top of the palisades – this all to be conducted by Bill Cummins, the park ranger − and finally enjoy a box lunch picnic in the shelter.
Fortunately, Miss Landin had picked an ideal spring day for their adventure: upper-60s, clear skies, the wall of trees on the other side of the creek even sheltering them from some gusty westerly breezes. As was her wont, she had even tried to whip up some excitement about the trip by putting together a lecture, complete with overheads, explaining that there were three claimants to the title of the oldest tree in Iowa: Old Hawkeye, a giant maple located in a public park in Dubuque; The Froehlich Ash, located on private property in western Iowa; and Neshnala, a white oak in their very own Five Falls State Park.
What Miss Landin didn’t know, indeed, what no one really knew, even including the Iowa State Forester, was that the great white oak, at three-hundred-and-ten years old was, in fact, the senior of the three by more than half-a-century: Old Hawkeye was not quite two-hundred-and-fifty years old and the Froelich Ash was a relative youngster at a-hundred-and-ninety years old, although that was long-lived for an ash.
She had even copied and blown-up for her overheads photos of the three trees from a state brochure she’d found in the Lee’s Landing Library to try to give her kids some sense of their sheer size. But it hadn’t been nearly enough…
To be continued…
(C) 2018 Dave Lager