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Essay: Elm

Every time I travel a certain highway south of Traverse City, I look for a single elm tree on the north side of the road. A glorious, healthy elm that stands out against the oaks and maples because of its graceful vase-like form and immense height.

Somehow, it survived the blight of Dutch elm disease that wiped its cousins off the map over fifty years ago in Michigan. Driving by that rare tree, I am filled with gratitude and respect.

My grandmother had two elms in her front yard in Grand Rapids which she watered as tenderly as her garden in the back. When my grandfather died and she was alone, those trees became even more valuable as companions and guardians. If they could survive in all weathers, so could she.

Then the City came and cut them down in an effort to control Dutch elm disease. Suddenly there were two holes in the sky and my grandmother never recovered from this loss. None of us did.

Oaks and maples are wonderful, of course, and pines are a special feature of our northern region. But each time I see that surviving elm on the highway south of town, I recall that nothing has replaced them—their lovely shape and stature.

They used to be everywhere.