Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Story of Ella’s Tree

Ella Oct 2000
Ella would have been 62 today. She will have been gone 7years in April. We were married 30 years and 2 days. She was wife, mother, friend, daughter, administrator, organizer, energizer. She was in charge and things got done. Everyone needed her for something and she was on call 24-7. She never relaxed. Except at the lake. She lived for her time at the lake.

It was a little prairie lake in the Qu’Appelle Valley a couple of hours east of Regina. Our neighbour and long time friend, Barb, had a family cabin there, shared by the three sisters and their families, all friends of ours. In the summer when they weren’t using it, Ella would load up the car with books, food and cleaning supplies (that was her “rent” payment) and go to the lake for as many days as she could, as often as she could. All by herself. No phone, no TV, no nothing and NOBODY. She would sit and read in front of the cabin, where she could see and hear the water.

When she died, a friend gave us money to plant a tree in her memory. None of us were “permanent” anywhere. Our house was for sale and the kids were all renting. The only logical place for the tree was “the cabin” so we asked if that was ok. This is the story as told by our neighbour, Barb, shortly after the planting.

Crooked Lake from the top of the Qu'Appelle Valley

Ella’s Tree
On June 13, Al, Joanne and I went to Lakeview Gardens to look at trees. The family had decided to donate a tree to Joanne to plant at her cottage at Crooked Lake. It was to be a tree in memory of Ella who so loved the lake and the times that she spent there over the years.

After tromping around and discussing the pros and cons of different trees, Al decided on a crimson maple. It stood about 8 feet tall and the trunk was about 2 inches across. We planned to have the tree delivered to the lake the following weekend.

For those of us (4 people at some points), at the lake during the week, there was much discussion about where to plant the tree. On the left side of the lot, at the right side, at the front in the middle (no, that won't do-Ella wouldn't want the view spoiled). We acted like men standing around a construction site -waving our arms and doing everything but digging a hole. Joanne didn't stay the whole week but before she left to go back to the city, we said to her "Give us direction and we will dig the hole while you are gone." She didn't and so we waited for her return.

Joanne brought the tree out on the weekend of June 19. Saturday morning was a pleasant and sunny one and we retrieved the tree from the van. Then we started all over again. Should the tree be on the left side, should it be on the right, how far away from the current trees, how big will it grow (checking the tag and pacing off imaginary branches and leaves in all directions), what will it do to the view of the neighbours, what about the prevailing winds.....on and on. Finally Joanne said OK, this is the spot and away we went. Digging, digging, then putting root nutrient liquid in the hole, then compost leaves from the back of the lot, then the stake for stability and then the tree. We anchored the tree to the stake and stood back to survey our handiwork.

Kathy from the cabin next door came over and started to chat with Jo. Kathy said she saw we had become arborists and Jo said, yes, the tree was in memory of our dear friend Ella who had spent time at the cottage. Kathy knew Ella and was saddened by the news and she said:

"Oh, that lady.....that lady! I said to my husband, as you dug the hole.... where is that lady going to put her lawnchair for that's where she always sat in the sun and read her book."

And so, without realizing it, and with guidance that only Ella could give, we planted the tree where she did her reading on the lawn. I'm sure the rationale was that if she couldn't sit in that spot then no one else could either. We will give the tree love and attention and we want to have you come to the lake to see it too.

It's a lovely spot, a lovely tree and is a memory of a beautiful woman.

Joanne by Ella's Tree June 2004

Joanne died suddenly in September of that same year. Complications from surgery, they said. Not a good year for our two families.  Sean and I mourned together.  Cabin ownership passed to her sister Cheryl whose family farmed 30 minutes north of the lake. Barb and her family moved to Ottawa.

I stopped out at the cabin a couple of times. The tree survived the first winter and the second. It seemed to be settling in pretty good, even though it was touch and go if it could survive the climate.

Then the resort area was sold. The cabins were “owned” but the land was owned by the resort and rented annually. The new owners changed the rules. Buy the land or move the cabin off or walk away. It was an old cabin, not worth moving and the price asked for lake front property was outrageously high. They walked away from a life time of memories. The cabin was demolished that fall.

I had moved to Ukraine by then. The kids still had no place permanent enough to put a tree.  Two of them have bought houses since.  Ella’s tree was moved to Cheryl’s farm, where it is now in memory of two beautiful women.

Life is life. Life happens while you make other plans. The physical is not permanent. Only the memories.

LynnieC and Al August 2006


  1. I couldn't have written it better.

    Happy birthday, Mom.

    Love you lots, Old Man.

  2. Absolutely one of the best tributes I have ever read. Made the hair on my neck stand and I puddled up.

  3. The last summer ever of the cabin, when I went up with Amanda, I took a leaf from the tree and pressed it in a book. I must still have it somewhere.

  4. I think this is the first time you've made me cry while reading your blog.

    Happy Birthday to a woman who sounds like someone I'd have adored.

    *hugs* to everyone else,to all who are still around to remember her and love her and tell the stories.

  5. I don't think I heard the story of the tree before. Wonderful memories and well said.

  6. My eyes are stinging. This was lovely :)

  7. Yeah, there seems to be something in my eye...

    This is a lovely post, Uncle Al.

  8. I've been thinking of Auntie all day and this was a lovely post to round out the memories.
    Love you all.

  9. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman. I got goosebumps when I read the tree was planted where she used to sit. Coincidentally Mike and I were talking about similar things today ... how it feels like loved ones who have died somehow remain with us. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Awesome story, BF. You're a great writer.

  11. What a wonderful thing to find out about where the tree was first planted. I know there was a hand guiding them to that spot.
    I lost my fav summer place at the lake 2 yrs ago but thankfully the memories of a wonderful childhood and growing up there are still intact.

  12. Makes me wonder what we'll leave behind when we go. Hopefully some good memories too.

  13. Thank you for sharing a little of your past personal life...beautiful story and truer words were never spoken...memories live in our hearts and no one can sell those or take them away. As to the mexican cornbread ...I pretty much use the one you posted but omit any sugar and I use 2 tbls. of olive oil instead of all the butter. I use two eggs not four. and thank you for the link to the trailer blog..I will check it out...

  14. Oh, my, I'm so glad the tree was saved, and I was so pleased to learn about this part of your life. I really don't know how one survives what you're been through.


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