Why we planted trees in a Nevadaghost town

To the handful of people who live in Tuscarora, Nev., it is not a ghost town at all, though the only "establishment" is the United States post office.

Julie Parks, the postmistress, has established a small library in the foyer section; and that area also serves as a free-for-the-taking kind of thrift shop, where any of the town's minuscule population can drop off blouses, T-shirts or shorts they've gotten tired of wearing.

There is regular telephone service in Tuscarora, and also electricity and water, but forget about using your cell phone because it's too far up in the mountains for that kind of service. If you want to buy a sack of chips or a cinnamon roll, or have a beer after a day of cowpunching, you can stop by at the bar 12 (or is it seven?) miles away, down Taylor Canyon.

So this past spring, we bought a lot in beautiful downtown Tuscarora. Here, we have three of the largest and oldest cottonwood trees in town, bushes and bushes of the yellow Texas roses that miners brought to Tuscarora back in the 1870s, as well as two abandoned mine shafts and lots of hundred-year-old buried rubble and trash. Over one of those mine shafts we've begun building an outdoor shower (no worry about adequate drainage), but for the most part, we've been planting trees and cutting brush from our newly acquired land.

I don't know how it came about, but we decided the first real improvement we wanted to do on our lot was plant trees, many trees and some bushes of several species. I remember my parents planting trees when we moved into the house on Bower Street back in Michigan when I was 10. The street where we lived was bare of trees, except for a young elm near the sidewalk beside our driveway. "It's as if we're sitting on a frying pan," my mother observed, and Father agreed.

They wasted no time in getting trees. Father knew a guy at work who gave us three birches. Our "egg lady" gave us two oaks. We bought a weeping birch for the side yard and a weeping willow for the back so its branches could sweep down over the steps leading down to the lower section where they planted fruit trees - red and yellow cherries, white translucent apple and dwarf pears.

Part of my parents' strategy had been to create privacy. They would look at the neighbors' windows or their yards and plant trees that would block the neighbors' view into our yard. So it was that flowering crabapple trees blocked the view into our side yard, and Mother's forest of pine trees on the hilly slope leading down into the gully blocked all the houses across the gully from seeing into our back yard. For good measure, they also planted a tall hedge of incense cedars in front of the pine trees.

My grandparents in Latvia had been zealous tree planters, too. As a child, I remember Mother often telling about how Grandfather had planted a small orchard of hazelnut trees, plums, pear, and apples. She would reminisce about how she and her sisters spent the summer months climbing into all those fruit trees to sit on the branches and eat until they thought their stomachs would explode.

Before Dave and I planted the first Colorado blue spruce, Austrian black pine or aspen tree, we walked the property over and over again, noting where we could use a windbreak (almost everywhere!), where we wanted privacy, and where the soil would give in to the shovel (definitely not everywhere!). Then Dave dug and I planted.

Some holes seemed too deep, and some too shallow. In some, we added broken-up dried cow dung (for "downtown" is part of the "open range" in Tuscarora). In others, we added the rich soil from beneath the old privy whose foundations Dave had been restoring. Then I cut and pinched together wire nets to protect the trees from rabbits, cattle and deer, while Dave worked on an extensive watering system with main hoses and off-shoot hoses and double turn-off faucets.

When we were all finished (75 trees and bushes later), Jerry, the guy across the street, observed, "Guess you two believe in the future. Those babies are pretty small." Dave and I looked at each other. We did, indeed. Then I thought of my parents and grandparents. They did, too, even when they had more to fear than hope. In fact, I like to think that everyone I know who loves and plants trees believes in the future.

• Ursula Carlson, Ph.D., teaches writing and literature at Western Nevada Community College.


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