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The Observer, June 17

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The Observer is not a poet, and certainly not a philosopher, but we do have a tender spot for such lines as "I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree." We most recently saw these words, written by the American poet Joyce Kilmer, at a small memorial for a tree that had been removed from in front of the property at 217 Johnson St., in Stifft's Station.

For those who live in neighborhoods too new to have ancient trees outside their front door, it may seem a bit overly sentimental to get upset about the loss of an old oak — a tree is a tree is a tree. But for Cindy Brown and her daughter Emily, who had lived under what they believed to be the bicentennial shade of the oak they fondly referred to as Mr. Nelson for 20 years, having the tree removed was bittersweet.

Their neighbors thought so too, and once Mr. Nelson had been felled, on June 4th, a small notebook was placed on the stump where memories and goodbyes could be written.

Visiting the stump and flipping through the notebook, we were reminded of one of the nicest things that trees — Mr. Nelson no exception — provide for us: shade. It was a hot day and before too long sweat was beaded on our forehead. There is another tree closer to the Browns' house, but the front yard and sidewalk are now in the direct sunlight.

But why else should a tree be commemorated? we pondered. Emily, who had lived with Mr. Nelson since she was 3 years old, recalled sitting in the nook of its roots, where she would watch the sky and read books. Shel Silverstein, anyone? She said that even with the large window in front of their house, Mr. Nelson was so large as to block the view of the street.

The front page of the memorial notebook explains that there used to be many huge oaks of a similar age up and down the street, and that gradually they were all removed until Mr. Nelson was the only one remaining. The city had warned the Browns that eventually the tree would have to go, especially after damage it sustained during the ice storm 10 years ago. Looking at the stump, we could see where one side had begun to rot. Although the Browns didn't want to see Mr. Nelson go, they understood the risk that a tree — speculated to be over 50 feet tall — posed to the houses around it.

Perhaps the special attention paid to Mr. Nelson can be best understood as an acceptance of our mortality and our lingering ties to the environment. Emily told us that she thought of the tree as grounding, something to remind her, even in the middle of the city, that she was living in nature. Mr. Kilmer may have said it best: "Poem's are made by fools like me/But only God can make a tree."

On the Outer Banks in North Carolina, where this old cork spent several days bobbing in the waves in the week just past, is a metal spaceship. In years past, the spaceship, in Frisco, just above Hatteras, was called Out of This World Hot Dogs. Alien faces peered from the oval windows that ringed the ship. Today the disk sits on a pile of rocks next to what appears to be a backhoe business, but it is shinier than ever, so perhaps it is due for another launch on another mission.

We took our child to Out of This World Hot Dogs when she was small, helping her up the ramp that led to the saucer hovering above the sand and shrubs, and ordered up hotdogs. As we ate our dogs, we asked the captain about the metal disk. What was it really built for? Where did it come from?

And, as The Observer finds in so many out of the way places in this world, the answer was that it came from Arkansas. Apparently, in years past its inventor thought to make a go of it in the mobile home business (as we recall) with his new, aerodynamic design. It didn't take off, however, and somehow this model landed on the Outer Banks, destined to Serve Man.

It seems that no matter where we go, we find a little bit of unorthodox Arkansas waiting for us. Like the rattlesnake purveyor in Arizona. Another story.

While the hot dog place eventually flopped as well, the spaceship is more at home there in Frisco, on the Outer Banks.

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