Can you mourn the end of an era when you weren't there for the beginning? That's what I wondered on the bright, frigid morning of December 19 as I took a run at Shelburne Farms, zipping up the walking path from the entrance to the inn and back.
On my way, I saw something that chilled me even more than the scathing wind. I'd already heard that the majestic Eastern Cottonwoods of Poplar Drive were slated to be removed
; that the trees were dead or dying and increasingly posed a hazard to passersby. But I'd put the news out of my mind, as we often do with unwelcome news we can't change.
My view of Poplar Drive from the Farms' main road on December 19, 2018.
Now I faced a transformed version of the graceful allée where I'd walked so many times on the way back from a run or hike on the property. Where the two lines of thick-trunked, venerable trees had stood last summer, their greenery mingling overhead and casting the dusty road in flickering emerald shade, I saw a few denuded stumps being removed by a massive crane. I snapped a photo and Instagrammed it.
Of course, I wasn't the only one commemorating the loss. Photographer Glenn Russell was on the scene when the cottonwoods came down. You can see different phases and views of that process in the slideshow above, along with "before" images of Poplar Drive by filmmaker Art Bell.
Shelburne Farms is a nonprofit educational organization that maintains 1,400 acres of fields, buildings and woodland on the edge of Lake Champlain. Much of the property was landscaped in the late 19th century by the Webb family, inspired by the work of Frederick Law Olmsted.
But not Poplar Drive. According to Shelburne Farms' blog post
detailing the trees' departure,
Curiously, for such a prominent feature of the Farm’s landscape, these trees are of mysterious origin. Patricia O’Donnell of Heritage Landscapes, who developed the Farm’s Landscape Plan, believes that given their size, these trees may predate the estate of Shelburne Farms (begun in 1886). She thinks they may have lined the entry drive to an earlier farm. On archival topographical and property maps of the area, however, the trees don’t show up. And while there may be a record of them in our Archives, recent digging has yet to turn any up.
So, for now at least, we don't know the birth date of Poplar Drive, only its end date.
Here's some more positive news: According to an update
to the Farms' "Farewell to Poplar Drive" blog post, Vermont Tree Goods
of Bristol will spend this winter turning wood from the felled cottonwoods into rustic tables. You can order your own Poplar Drive table from the company — or just enjoy sitting at the ones that "will be used here at the Farm, as a way to honor and remember these trees and the natural cycle of life that we are all a part of."