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Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Dannebrog Maple

In a town on the Nebraska plains, one tree’s radiance has been THE autumn occasion for generations.


The Tree’s glistening Fall color palette has long fascinated the citizens of Dannebrog, Nebraska

Photo: EarthScholars Research Group

By James H. Wandersee and Renee M. Clary

EarthScholars™ Research Group

We were inspired and moved by a two paragraphs from humorist, folklorist, and journalist Roger L. Welsch, of Dannebrog, Nebraska.  A retired senior correspondent from CBS News Sunday Morning, Welsch is well-known throughout the state for his popular segment-series of the past called “Postcards from Nebraska.” Here are the arresting passages from his essay “Beating a Live Horse.”

In Dannebrog, Nebraska, a town close to my farm, there is a maple tree just down the street east of the bank and the hardware store. Each fall that tree explodes into the most exquisitely formed, flamboyantly iridescent blast of color that has ever been seen around Nebraska. Admittedly, there may be ten thousand trees on Lake Otsego or in Brown County, Indiana, each of which is more beautiful than the Dannebrog tree, but in Nebraska where there are so few trees and where there are so few varieties of trees, this tree is awesome in its splendor. I cannot adequately describe the beauty of that tree…

The four hundred citizens of Dannebrog watch that tree and anticipate and hope. They worry about the early frosts and high winds; they resonate with the easy chill of a fall night. They watch the slow, uneven change and use body English to push the color into its most splendid intensity. Scarcely a conversation passes in Dannebrog without some mention of The Tree. The Dannebrognagians roll the vision around in their heads like a cabernet should be rolled about in the mouth. They compare its color and brilliance with those of previous years. They speculate on the reasons for such variation…. New photos are taken. Then the whole town permits a reluctant submission to the inevitability of the Tree losing its color and its leaves as fall becomes winter…. For a while the discussion in the streets has not been of cents per bushel or hundredths of an inch of rainfall but of aesthetics… and, I would say, of community history, social solidarity, local pride,

spirit, as well.

We were captivated that single tree could mean so much and become so beloved by the citizenry of a village on the prairie in rural America. Since Welsch wrote his essay some 30 years ago, we wondered if the tree were still alive. We were also eager to find out what species of tree it was and what colors its fall foliage exhibited that made it so remarkable.  Most importantly, we wanted to know if it continues to arouse a sense of wonder in the townsfolk of Dannebrog, if it had indeed entered the 21st century.. And so we traveled to Nebraska this autumn. Was The Tree still there?

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Posted by Julie on 10/17 at 08:30 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink