Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Cherry Leaf Challenge

First, a story:

The town

Harley was considered an impulsive young man, even by the standards of his community.

Harley lived in Beau Ford, Northern Michigan (usually referred to by its initials by effete down-staters, B.F. Northern Michigan).  In other times and places Harley would have been medicated into a poor facsimile of a girl.   Doctors and folding money are in short supply in BF Northern Michigan.  The last time BF had a hopping-hot economy was the winter when the French Canadian Voyageurs were snowed in with a load of distilled products.  So the Harley you saw was Harley the way God made him.

In fact, Harley was responsible for a down-state student teacher pursuing a career in culinary arts (aka, delivering pizza).  The student teacher, a woman, instructed her new students in the proper way to get her attention.  She instructed them to hold their upper arms parallel to the floor (+/- 3 degrees) and to hold their upper arms vertically (+/- 5 degrees).  Their palms were to face her, fingers clasped together, thumb parallel with the fingers.  She expected them to follow her with their palm as she primly walked around her classroom.  She would call them when she deigned proper.  Controlled tremors of excitement (+/- 1/4 inch) were permitted.  Anything more was disruptive and resulted in demerits.

She did not last long.  Harley broke her.

Harley's home

Harley's family lived where the river finally began showing some ambition and broke out of the swamp.  The river stopped its lazy, aimless wanderings and picked up speed.  The banks became steep and, this time of year, the river became engorged with the massive amounts of snowmelt trying to leave the BF basin for Lake Superior.

It was a day near the end of March when Harley had his Cherry Leaf AHA!  He was walking home from school shortly after lunch.  He had been expelled for tussling in the cafeteria.

As he followed the shortcut from the highway, he noticed that the family outhouse would soon tumble into the river.  It was precariously perched on the bank on the outside of the river bend.  The snow had been heavy that winter and the rushing water had already undercut and toppled large sections of the bank.  It was just a matter of time before it would topple the stretch where the outhouse stood.

Harley was a doer, not a thinker.  But if he had been a thinker he would have thought of himself as an "Agent of Entropy".  Harley was not the kind of kid who disassembled vehicles and put them back together again on the roof.  Nope.  He was the kind of kid who bumped them out of gear and watched them roll down the hill.  In a universe of infinites, the improbable eventually becomes inevitable.  In a universe of Harleys, there is no need for the word "eventually".

That out-house spoke to Harley.  It told him what needed to be done.  Harley hip checked the teetery, old outhouse into the stream and watched it sail, upright around the bend.  By his country-boy estimation, it was making about seven knots and was surprisingly well ballasted.


Harley kept himself scarce for the first couple of hours.  He was not scairt of getting whipped for being expelled.  His folks were pretty much resigned to the fact.  He kept out of sight because his dad would put him to work.  The family burned pallets from the mill and they were a lot of work to bust up to burning size.

After a bit, Harley got to thinking about how his dad was going to react to having to dig a new pit and build a new water closet.  Harley was bigger than his dad but he did not expect it to go well.  When he was younger, his dad would send him out to the pallet pile to pry off a board.  Then, the dad would proceed to beat Harley until the board broke.  Harley was smart about things that got his attention.  He quickly learned to hoard punky pine boards with extra large knot holes.  They broke WAY sooner than the straight grained ash and red oak boards.

His dad's stamina took a nose dive shortly after Harley got "his growth".  Now his dad talked at him.  Sometimes for one beer.  Sometimes for more.  His dad could talk as long as he had a can of beer in his hand.  And by dint of long practice his dad could drink a lot of beer.  Harley hated getting talked at worse than getting beat with a pallet board, especially on those days after his dad had renewed his supply of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

About six o'clock

About six o'clock his dad came trudging up the path from the highway.  That path went right past the old outhouse so there was no chance of ducking consequences until the next day.  Harley decided to try something new...something his principal called "being pro-active."

"Dad, before you say anything. I knocked the out-house into the river and  I want to tell you about something I learned at school.  George Washington cut down a cherry tree.  And his dad was getting ready to whop him when George stood up straight and told him, "Dad, I done it.  I ain't proud of it but I ain't no liar."  Then his dad decided to not beat him.  So I don't think you should do anything to me because I manned up and told you.

The dad, stared at his son.

Harley's dad was not the fastest thinker even in the best of times.  His mind was a bit like a freight train.  His mind only worked in one direction, it took a while to get going and it took even longer to slow down.  In this particular for-instance, Harley's dad's mind was even more-so, whether because he had been thinking heavy thoughts or, more likely, had more time to come up to speed.

"Son, what you say about George Washington may be true.  I don't know.  I wasn't there."


"But it is a damned good bet that his dad was not up in that tree when George cut it down.  Go git a pallet board and make it a damned good one."

Cherry Leaves

My guys at coffee were talking about letters to Washington D.C.  It seems that they mostly get ignored. The picture in their heads is that some student-intern counts up the "fer-its" and the "agin-its" and writes the number in chalk on the sidewalk by the door.  That way the congressman or the President has something to look at when they scrape off their shoes before going inside.

The discussion turned to ways of breaking out of the ground clutter and getting some attention without breaking any laws.

Chokecherry range
Wild Black Cherry
One proposal was to include a cherry leaf with the letter.  It could be a domestic cherry like the one George Washington cut down.  Or it could be a pin, choke or wild black cherry depending on mood or availability.  Cherry leaves are less expensive than tea bags, will not necessitate additional postage and do not stain the envelop nor make it soggy.

The primary message would be "Man up.  Be honest with us."

It gets a little more entertaining when you start looking at the secondary messages.  Cherry leaves have many cyanogenic compounds.  That is, they contain many glucosides and proteins that release minute quantities of cyanide (and aromatic cyanide containing compounds) as they dry, undergo autolysis or decompose.  That will cause some excitement as Congressional and Presidential mail gets screened by exquisitely sensitive assaying equipment.

Cherry trees and incubating businesses

A factoid about Wild Black Cherry trees: Wild Black Cherry is a pioneer species primarily spread by birds.  Wild Black Cherry (P. serotina) is a common pasture tree. The leaves are not palatable to most browsers.  Many farmers left them in their pastures to provide shade for the animals.  They were considered more desirable than other, more thorny alternatives.

Cherry trees are the preferred host tree for Eastern Tent Caterpillars

Wild Black Cherry trees were linked to  Mare Reproductive Loss syndrome.  It was a huge surprise that the root cause was not because of their toxicity but because they are so attractive to tent caterpillars.  The barbed tips of those tiny caterpillar hairs penetrated the mare's gut walls and enter their blood stream.  Thousands of them would lodge in the placenta and create the botanical equivalent of silicosis in the placenta.  The resulting necrosis was the ideal medium for opportunistic infections.  Fetal death resulted.

At the risk of beating the analogy to death, this is what Washington D.C. does to small businesses.  It is not the elected officials (the cherry tree).  It is the eternal, intrusive bureaucracy living in the branches of the cherry tree that inflicts death with a thousand barbs.  Mature businesses and adults can shrug off the effects but it kills young businesses aborning and saps the natural vigor of the young.

Cherry trees and war

Another factoid about cherry trees is that they were the tree of choice for making faux cannons.  The shiny, dark grey bark of young cherry trees closely resembles the black oxide surface of cast iron.  Consequently, placing the trunks of cherry trees in cannon ports (after painting the exposed, cut end) was a way of feeding the enemy disinformation about capability and intent.

We do not tremble or quiver.  If you aren't careful we will hip-check you into the drink.  The bath will do you some good.

Include a cherry leaf in the next letter you send to your congress-critter or to the POTUS.  Tell them Eaton Rapids Joe suggested it.


  1. Great story, and the cherry tree idea has merit too!

  2. I have not seen a live wild black cherry tree in decades. The last cherry log I saw was at a cross-tie mill in the early '70s and my Dad bought the log. He had it cut into three, nine-foot sections and brought it home to dry. After it had been dry for several years, he had boards milled and built a gun cabinet. That cabinet now resides at my son't home, and I hope it serves the family for several more generations.

    There may be wild cherry growing in Louisiana, but I'm damned if I know where any are.

    1. I learned to track deer from a man named "Zeke" Strimbeck. He had many planks of black cherry drying in the rafters of his pole barn.

      Zeke and his wife died in a house fire. His son-in-law used the cherry planks to build a pig pen. No wood rots faster than cherry. The hog pen barely made it through one season. His son-in-law had a low opinion of cherry wood after that. The folks in the neighborhood were not all that impressed with the son-in-law.