CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Perry Mann turned 92 on March 12 overseeing the planting of a pink dogwood at his home in Hinton. Nearby a venerable old dogwood (Cornus florida) of the same coloration sported hundreds of buds along with many withering branches.
"Who's older, you or that dogwood?" I asked Perry.
"I don't know," he replied. "We are both showing signs of decay."
He lives near his law office where he still works with his daughter Amy Mann. He is challenged to maintain his balance on his daily walks to the Post Office and bank and over a bridge on the New River. He writes less frequently than his many readers would wish, but keeps up his reading of current affairs and books, at the moment, Jon Meacham's "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power."
The tree planting anticipated his column "Drama of a Spring Day:"
Now there is a perceptible alteration. A pink glow envelopes the mountains and here and there an upstart exhibits a glimmer of chartreuse, which is upstaged by the earliest white of the service tree. In town the dogwoods are having their day displaying splendiferous trees of flowering pinks.
With a watering of compost tea, the young Cornus florida (var. "Rubra") settled into the yard a respectful distance from the old dogwood. The elder got its share of the compost tea and some mulch as well. It will serve out its time above ground as slowly and surely as its owner. I hope that with the care we gave it, Perry still outlasts it and sees the newcomer assume that niche overlooking the New River.
Mann has long enjoyed the companionship of trees:
Every boy has a special place in the woods. It is a place where trees are a canopy under which there is a floor of cushiony decayed foliage and moss and there are all about rocks lichen covered. Nearby there is a spring from which a boy can have a draft of clear coolness by moving away leaves, waiting until it's clear and drinking with cupped hands or face down. Take away the trees and the spot is nothing to boys or birds or anything.