Our farm was located on the north side of Lake Andrew. It was two miles to the nearest major road and entailed driving on an undeveloped gravel road. The road was icy in the winter, muddy in the spring, and dusty during the summer. The road was narrow, as it was originally built for one-way traffic, although two vehicles could pass by each other if each driver carefully drove halfway into the ditch.
There was a major T-intersection a half mile from our homestead. Overlooking the intersection was an elm tree. The elm tree’s roots were embedded into the road itself, which caused a car to tilt slightly when passing underneath the tree. The lofty tree branches formed the most perfect shadow from the sun’s rays, creating an ideal location for lemonade stands.
The elm tree was a focal point for us. The scope of our neighborhood was measured in miles. For many of our friends and relatives, it was a halfway point between houses. Meeting at the elm tree was an example of the courtesy that we extended to one another. Rather than make your friend bike all the way to your house, you would meet them. We would tell each other on the phone, “Meet me at the elm tree.” That was all we had to say as we all knew the exact location.
With time comes progress, and the township board decided the road needed to be upgraded. The construction crews and equipment showed up one day: bulldozers, dump trucks, road graders, and a chain saw. The elm tree was in the way and had to be removed. The tree was cut down and left in the ditch to decompose. The tree roots underneath the road were also removed, which eliminated the road tilt.
Following the road construction, we referred to the location by a new name. It became known as “where the elm tree used to be.” We did not have to organize a naming committee to name it, as it was obvious. We continued to meet at the location, but it was not quite the same. The shade of the tree was missing. The road tilt was gone. Meeting another car on the gravel road became a nonevent. Traffic moved faster—yet, we still remembered the elm tree.
Locations become holy and spiritual in nature because they are focal points for the people living in the area. For my friends and family, the elm tree was—and always will be—our holy place.
Author: Dr. Ron Roth
Image: Flickr/Greg Westfall
Editor: Travis May