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Sticks and other items from around the yard

If a tree falls in the cattle yard and only the steers are there to hear it, does it make a sound?

This was a question I grappled with recently as I wrestled with a tree that had fallen in the grassy lot where our Jersey steers reside. The joys of home ownership never end!

It was no surprise that the tree went down. The decrepit ash tree had been deceased for several years. It stood stark and leafless, like an outsized scarecrow, in a corner of the cattle lot. But the tree had continued to serve a purpose long after it expired. A red-tailed hawk often perched high on its gray branches, scrutinizing the surrounding countryside for incautious mice or voles. A great horned owl would sometimes take a night shift in the tree, her booming hoots sending shivers down my spine as they echoed through the frozen wintertime darkness.

My chainsaw bit into the tree as I reduced it into manageable chunks. A good portion of the trunk was hollow. I looked closely but found no traces of an elfin bakery that cranked out sugary cookies and crispy crackers.

I kept the chainsaw away from the lower part of the trunk, which bristled with protruding strands of rusted netting and barbed wire. Grandpa Nelson, who lived on this farm for many years before my wife and me, had used the tree as a makeshift fencepost. As time passed, the tree gradually subsumed the wires until the two became as one. This is not unlike a lot of long-term relationships.

Given the amount of tree that had grown around the barbed wire, I would guess that Grandpa had saved that buck-fifty on the purchase of a wooden fencepost before I was born. Practicality – some may call it stinginess – runs deep in our family’s DNA.

Dogs Don't Like chain saws

I had hoped that our dog, Bella, would lend a paw in this project, but she apparently doesn’t like the roar of the chain saw nor the purr of my John Deere 3010 loader tractor. What a wimp!

I thought that Bella might help because she seems to have a thing for branches and twigs. She is forever leaving sticks on our deck, considerately placing them in such a way that they become tripping hazards for unwary pedestrians.

I keep throwing the sticks out into our grove and she keeps finding new ones to leave on the deck. Some of the sticks are beginning to look familiar; I think that I’ve thrown them away several times.

Twigs aren’t the only gifts that Bella leaves for us. She has also brought us a number of beer cans (sadly, all have been empty) and an old brown bottle that once held liquor but now only contains mud.

One day, I heard Bella clunking around with something on the deck and discovered that she had unearthed a small aluminum woodworking plane that was missing its blade. She later left a me dirt-encrusted 10-inch flat steel file. Some judicious polishing with a wire brush restored the file to serviceable condition, and it now resides in my toolbox. It’s nice when the dog brings me something practical.

Given the number of sticks produced by the tree when it fell, you would think that Bella would be in stick-fetching heaven. On the other hand, she often displays the attention span of a fruit fly. She also does some things that cause me to question her intellect.

For example, last winter we purchased a cheap plastic dog food dispenser. After filling the dispenser with Kibbles ‘N Bits, my wife and I left home for an hour. When we returned, the dog feeder was gone and Kibbles ‘N Bits were scattered all over the deck. It seems that Bella doesn’t grasp the difference between food and playthings. She’s very similar to a toddler in that respect.

But the kicker came when we saw Bella. She had somehow managed to get her head stuck inside the clear plastic dog food container. Bella pretended to be unfazed by this. She wagged her tail and grinned goofily as if to say, “Hi Mom, hi Dad! I haven’t been naughty while you were gone! No siree! Not even a little!”

Bella Nelson wearing her feeder
Photo by Jerry Nelson

My wife and I couldn’t help but chuckle. Bella looked as though she were ready to go trick-or-treating dressed as a furry astronaut.

The old ash tree is gone but not forgotten. Our skyline now has a gap in it, as if it were missing a tooth.

And I still have hopes for Bella. Maybe she’ll eventually bring me that ½-inch flex head quick-release ratchet that I’ve always wanted.

About the Author

Jerry Nelson
 Jerry Nelson and his wife, Julie, live in Volga, South Dakota, on the farm that Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. Daily life on that farm provided fodder for a long-running weekly newspaper column, “Dear County Agent Guy,” which become a book of the same name. Dear County Agent Guy is available at

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