Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Erwin A. Thompson Brush-Clearing Workout Program, Part 2

Since my mother's death on May 1st, 2006, my father Erwin Thompson has taken on clearing brush on our 100-acre place, Evergreen Heights, in a major way...this, in addition to completing several new novels, calling square-dances, and hosting a weekly musical open house. Oh yes, and he's about to celebrate his 92nd birthday on November 9th, 2007, tomorrow!

We've seen enormous benefits to his health in the last year from the brush-clearing workout. His heart, lungs, voice, outlook, and sleep have all improved since he's been dedicating himself to the Brush-Clearing Workout Program. To learn more, listen in on a conversation between the two of us right now. (See Part I, above.)--JGR

Erwin A. Thompson and Janet Grace Riehl, father-daughter writing team
Janet Riehl with her nonegenarian father Erwin Thompson

Riehlife: So, that’s why you do it. Tell us why the brush is there is the first place. Since you are the professor of brush-ology, give us the basics.

Erwin:There are two kinds of land classification, and then of course all of the shades in between. The residents of the good, flat, all-tillable lands in central Illinois are living in The Prairie The other end of the scale is The Forest.

The folks on The Prairie do not have much of a brush problem. They farm right up to the fence rows and in many cases there are no fences.There is no ready source of seeds for the brush growth, as the farmers are almost in a world by themselves.

Ideally, what you want in The Forest is fine, big trees. These big trees discourage the growth of brush by their tall shaded environment with a thick mat of pine needles accrued from the passing years. This discourages the growth of brush.

Between these base points, there is what is called The Edge. This is where we are. The seeds of the brush are carried by the birds, the wind, the rains which wash the seeds on down the hills and along the banks of the streams.

The railroads used to clean out their box cars and throw the leavings along the right of way out here in the country where they figured nobody would even notice. We did. That is how wild oats came into our part of the country. This is an ornery weed that is totally worthless and very persistent in re-seeding itself.

The thing that is really bad about the brush along the edge of the fields is that the trees reach out for the light of the field, and grow in that direction. Often they are so low that they hit the operator when mowing the field unless they just layout another ten feet, and this of course takes that much away from the open ground and adds to the underbrush.

Pop working in garden
Pop working outside

Riehlife: How do you cut brush?

In older times there was just one way, and that was a good sharp axe. Today, to at least partially offset some of the disadvantages that we have inherited in what some people call “progress,” we have the chain saw. I also use the pruning shears that my aunt and uncle used in their grafting work. Between these two great tools I can handle anything that has appeared in front of me so far.

The major trouble comes when the vines wrap around the larger trees. Sometimes the tops become so inter-twined that the tree will not fall even after it is cut.

Two possible solutions in addition to just leaving it hang and hope that it will fall some day. Sometimes on the smaller ones I make a cut about four feet above the ground level, and this will drop the tree trunk four feet nearer the ground. Sometimes it works.The safer way is to hook the tractor onto the mess and keep pulling until it comes apart.

Another advantage of progress is the invention of a wonderful blue substance which can be purchased from our farm supply store which, painted on the stumps, will discourage the sending up of new growth. This was the bad thing about the brush cutting in the old days, it had to be repeated every year to keep up with nature’s urge to re-populate the earth with its own.

So we have the brush on the ground. I have a big flat bed trailer for my tractor. We load the brush on the trailer and take it to a burning pile. It takes work. I have a neighbor who is built like Paul Bunyan’s ox. I call him my “pet elephant.” I have another neighbor who lives near the burning pile. He keeps it burned.

That is how I do it. I recommend brush clearing for health and mental health. There is a firm satisfaction in seeing the erstwhile messy edge of the field become once more looking like a field.

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4 Responses »

  1. Let me add my voice to the chorus of "Happy Birthdays" that are certain to come your way. Your 92 years are a lot of living and a wonderful reason to celebrate. Most of us don't have brush to cut, but we can take a lesson from you .. no actually several lessons ... from you. Stay active. Sustain a good attitude. Be creative. And just keep on keeping on! Have a splendid celebration of #92.

  2. Best wishes to you on your 92nd birthday! Your unflagging passion for life and your host of interests is an inspiration to all of us. I admire your tenacity and your energy. My husband and I will be trying your "blue stuff" on our own acreage. Enjoy your birthday!

  3. Great questions Janet! We should market this workout plan! 🙂

    Grandpa, you always work hard, there is no doubt about that. Besides maybe my dad, I think we all feel a little inadequate in your presence knowing the physical labor we've done doesn't approach your daily workout over the years. With your brush science and the fruition of your musical and literary talents, you are definitely the definition of the modern day Renassance Man! Love you; Happy Birthday!

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