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Saturday, July 24, 2010

September in Saskatoon

I’ve had the fortune to travel Canada literally from one ocean to the other, setting foot in every Canadian province except one (Prince Edward Island). There are many highlights of these travels, but the trip that had the most emotional impact began as the least promising. I had to attend a customer meeting in Saskatoon, the largest city in the province of Saskatchewan. Let me add, “largest city” means just 250,000 people. Saskatchewan is similar to North Dakota, with mile after mile of cultivated flat prairie. Fortunately I was flying not driving.

After changing planes in Chicago and Winnipeg I landed at the Saskatoon airport, rented a car, and started the short drive on a 2-lane road to enter the city. And there they were: elm trees on both sides of the road. It was September, and the leaves of the elms were bright yellow, just as I remembered them. To my eyes, a mature elm is exactly what a tree should be: a sturdy but not overly thick trunk, climbable branches reaching toward the sky, and a symmetrical crown with shade underneath.

I had not seen an elm tree in a long time. You remember, I’m sure, when elm trees graced the streets of virtually every city in Alabama and Georgia. The house where I lived 1960-1972 had two elm trees in the front yard. Dutch Elm Disease killed them all. Western Canada, however, has largely avoided the disease… and thus, resplendent elms are still to be found there.

At once Saskatoon turned from a dreary destination on a mundane business trip to an opportunity for reflection on the idyllic aspects of my youth. No one’s youth is totally idyllic, and mine certainly wasn’t. But as I grow older, I find it meaningful – necessary? – to reconnect with the sense of wonder and simple pleasure that youth offers. The more I looked around Saskatoon, the more simple pleasures I found.

For decades now, botanists have been searching for a cultivar or hybrid of the American Elm that is highly resistant to Dutch Elm Disease. It’s hard work. Researchers must wait many years to evaluate results, and often the results are disappointing pathologically or esthetically. I hope they succeed before my generation passes away. Everyone should have a Saskatoon experience like I did.