Many people who attend Camp at Kettleby Valley know where ‘Ace’s Tree’ can be found. Not as many know who Ace was and why there is a tree at camp that bears his name. And there are only a couple of people who know how the tree actually got to where it grows today.
Ace was a staff member at Kettleby Valley who passed away unexpectedly the night before staff training began in 2008. Of course, it was a challenging time for his family and friends. We wanted to do something at camp that would ensure people would remember Ace, his contributions, and all the connections had he made. It was agreed that planting a tree would be an appropriate symbol.
I didn’t want a seedling. I wanted a modest sized tree that would be noticeable and would stand out. I also wanted the tree down in the valley and access in those days was very limited. I chose the tree from the local farm that seemed to fit the bill. It was a sizable maple, but not overwhelming. I made the arrangements for delivery for Thursday at 6:00 am. This would give me, and anyone I could rope into helping, plenty of time to get the tree into the valley and planted before the day campers arrived.
The tree was delivered strapped to a 40 foot transport trailer. It was bigger than I’d remembered. Chex was my designated helper and, when he saw the tree, the look on his face was a little more defeated than usual - I assumed it had to do with the hour of the day. He operated the camp tractor while I drove the ATV and trailer. We both watched tentatively as the massive mechanical spade on the delivery truck lowered the tree into the trailer. The leaf springs strained, but once everything settled the tires cleared the wheel wells by about 1/2 an inch. If I drove slow and missed the big bumps, we would be fine.
We had to drive through town to get to the valley and it never occurred to me until I was on my way that driving a two stroke engine while pulling a tree might gather some unwanted attention. I had to drive slow, so it gave people time to hear me coming, walk to their windows and still get a glimpse of me travelling past their homes with the 12 foot high maple in tow. With the occasional wave and nod of my head to the onlookers, I continued.
As I turned onto our back ‘road’ and down the hill, I remembered that the brakes on the ATV where tenuous, even when we weren’t pulling a trailer (and a tree). I quickly switched into first gear and let the transmission do some of the work. The engine whined even louder. It sounded like a small plane with engine trouble coming in for an emergency landing.
At the bottom of the hill was a foot bridge that I had navigated successfully about a thousand times in a row with the ATV and trailer. I knew the angle of the turn and the exact location that the tires needed to be. Inexplicably, I had chosen this time to miscalculate my turn, causing the right wheel of the trailer to fall off the bridge. The back end of the ATV began to lift slightly. After consulting with Chex, we decided to use the tractor to lift and nudge the trailer back onto the bridge while I drove forward. We were somehow successful and carried on to the pre-dug hole. This was taking far more time than I had anticipated.
We knew the tree was heavy – very heavy. We hooked a chain around the massive root ball and onto tractor bucket. The hydraulics strained as Chex brought the bucket up. Nothing happened. It was clear that the tractor was unable to lift the tree. However it was able to take some weight off the trailer. After another meeting, we decided that Chex would lift while I drove the trailer away. Confident with our plan, I started up the ATV and as soon as I saw the chains tighten, I drove away, leaving the full weight of the tree on the tractor bucket. My confidence quickly turned to panic as the back tire of the tractor began to lift off the ground. I had a vision of flipped tractor in the hole that was meant for the tree. Chex managed to throw his hand in the direction of the leaver, lowering the bucket and the tree quickly, preventing catastrophe.
We managed to wiggle the tree into the hole and cover it with dirt without any further mishaps. The tree guys looked after the rest. Dirtied, unnerved and disheveled , I made it back up to the bus loop to greet the first bus of the day with 45 seconds to spare.
The tree is doing very well. It continues to grow and provides more shade each year. I remember the events of that day very clearly. I also remember Ace and every time I walk by that tree it makes me smile.