The Roundup -

"The Long Goodbye – Part 2"


October 16, 2019 | View PDF

Many of you may not remember who “Dr Dirt” was. I am an Internal Medicine physician who has worked in this area since 1986. I took a sabbatical from medicine for several years. I have been back in medicine for over six years, doing what I was always meant to do. During my sabbatical I ran a small landscaping business with my three sons. I did a variety of other things as well. I wrote a weekly newspaper column for “The Roundup” for five years that was entitled “Dr Dirt.” After reading the obituary on the legendary Russ Wells and attending his memorial service, I have been reminiscing about those years. Russ and his son, Jody, were kind enough to let me write that column. They even paid me for that, even though I would have done the job for free. Don’t tell them that, though, because the paper might want me to start contributing articles again.

It is interesting that even now many of my older patients remind me of those stories I wrote. Some people ask me for advice about trees and other related matters. Other people fondly remember that the column was more about things other than landscaping. The column started out to be about landscaping, though. Despite the title of that newspaper column, I was not an expert on landscaping – even though both my dad and son have been in the business. I occasionally gave useful advice, for example: You should keep your lawnmower blade sharp, and there is nothing like good manure. But this is just common sense. The column was more about the “tall tales and short essays” that I dreamed up. I was fortunate that The Roundup let me write about anything I wanted. My columns were a little bit about landscaping, but more often about other topics: recent events, interesting people, my dog, medical subjects, reflections on life, pop psychology, philosophy, and even spirituality.

I wrote an article in 2007 entitled “The Long Goodbye.” The article described, with some scientific detail, why we were rapidly losing our American Elm trees to Dutch Elm disease. My wife (Shelley) and I have lived in Sidney since December 1985. We remember those elm trees. Those stately trees lined the houses on 4th Street SE. They formed a lovely canopy. Their shade kept us cool in the heat of the summer, and they also protected us from strong winds and blizzards. We remember how it was. Dutch Elm Disease took all our elm trees. There are almost no elm trees left on our street or the rest of the community. Back then several people tried to slow down the spread of this disease, but we were all unsuccessful. The people up and down our street have removed almost all these elm trees and have tried to adapt as well as possible. But the memory of the Elm trees lives on. We removed over 10 elm trees from our lot alone. We then had to grind those stumps out and then try to put in other trees or grass. But the elm trees did not go gracefully. In the years to follow the roots from their huge stumps have decayed and produced a virtual sea of mushrooms. We have had to grind and re-grind out their huge roots, fill in these huge holes with better dirt, and encourage grass seed to grow in their place. This is, in some ways, a metaphor of how life itself can be.

It is good that we are reminded of people and events in our lives. I have fond memories of my “Dr Dirt” writing days. I also remember many other events and people from my past life: of friends I never hear from anymore, my childhood, of my medical training, and the many patients I have taken care of over the years even. . . If I meet you on the street, there is a good chance that I will remember your medical problems, but I will not necessarily remember your name. I apologize in advance if that happens. And people with even the best memories will not remember all the people they have known who have passed on – even people with legacies like what Russ Wells had. My memories of Russ Wells, and the other people at The Roundup newspaper, will not leave me. I am thankful for what they did for me.

I recall the words of Walt Whitman, regarded as the greatest American poet of all time, in his classic work “Leaves of Grass.” He wrote that the remains of his own human life would literally and figuratively nourish the lives of new life: including new leaves of grass, people, and other living things. All biologic things will die, but biologic and spiritual life goes on. Although the loss of anything dear to us can be devastating, we must all live on. My wife and I have tried to replace our gorgeous elm trees, which are impossible, but we have done this to the best of our ability. We have even had to deal with the less memorable aspects of this loss – the decay and the mushrooms of their stumps. We are trying to replace the burden of this loss with a reasonably healthy lawn. It is a work in process.

This is the circle of life. The death of a loved one hurts terribly, but memories of them (both good and bad) live on. I was, for example, terribly sad when my parents died. I think of them every day. They are still with me, and they motivate me to do my best. These are the seasons of our lives. And now, as summer gives way to winter, we are reminded of this never-ending cycle. We all get older, and eventually die. Others will take our place. Hopefully we will be missed. But winter always gives way to spring, and the new life that follows. And that’s how it always has been. And that’s how it always will be.


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