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Two tree planters on a Mississippi porch.

As the Conservation Reserve stimulates new planting of millions of acres of trees, these men recall another project and its progeny.

"I have been out there some days, like when the snow was this high, and wished I was my mama's baby girl." One day after his 79th birthday, Burnie Goolsby is laughing about the old days. He, John Arrechea, and I sit on Burnie's porch while the rain comes down.

"I was the lead man in the lead row," Burnie goes on.

"Then rest of them, 10 or 12, they'd walk along at my side, staying at the right planting distance, six to eight foot or whatever. You'd move two steps, take that dibble-bar, work a hole, and put that little tree down in the hole and tie it."

By "tie" he means that once the pine seedling was in place in its wedge-shaped hole, the dibble-bar was stuck into the ground about six inches behind the seedling and used to close up the hole. You closed the second dibble hole by mashing it with your heel.

Burnie has a dibble-bar on the porch and shows us how he'd done those things. His movements are so confident and natural that John and I look at one another and smile. Here is a good man remembering a kind of work he loved.

Between 1948 and 1968, some 621,341 acres of northern Mississippi were planted in pines as part of a program called the Yazoo-Little Tallahatchie Flood Prevention Project, or Y-LTP. Administered by the Soil Conservation Service and the Forest Service, the Y-LTP had as its goal the stabilization of land eroding at outrageous rates because of generations of forest cutting and cotton planting. For a fine discussion of the Y-LTP, see Ed Kerr's "Comeback on the Yazoo-Little Tallahatchie" in the July 1973 issue of American Forests.

John Arrechea was the Y-LTP's last Project Manager. When the Oxford, Mississippi, Eagle, John's hometown newspaper, invited him to write a story on the Y-LTP, he managed to avoid filling it with phrases like "interagency cooperation," "concerted education program," and "floodwater structures" - surely terms that fill a project manager's dreams. Instead John wrote about people. In the September 13, 1985, edition of the Eagle, he praised . . .

"... the tree planter who returned winter after winter, taking pride to carefully plant each small pine seedling in the washed-out hills of his home county ... the Forest Technician who sold so many landowners on the idea of land restoration with loblolly pine . . . the Project Forester who usually stayed just a few years, but in that short time gained such valuable experience in administration, watershed management, and the most important job, that of working with people."

Like Burnie, John's got soul.

I ask Burnie if he can remember the land before pines were planted.

"Oh, man, I reckon I can," he says, frowning. "It's hard to describe. It was just going away to nothing! Wash all the topsoil off, and all you got is poor dirt."

We listen to the rain.

"We'd get there early in the morning, and every man would get about 600 pines in his planting bag and take off.

In loamy, sandy soil you could plant 1,200 pines a day. But in that old sticky, red clay, if you could plant 600 or 700, you'd done a pretty good day's work.

"Sometimes some of the others talked about me because I was going so fast. They'd say, |Hey, loosen up over there!' But when I'd loosen up, I'd just set those plans faster."

"Jim," John says, "ol' Burnie is a millionaire. We gave a few of the men that title because we figured it up and they'd planted over a million trees."

Today you can sit on Burnie Goolsby's porch and see a pine woods at the far edge of a country road not 50 feet away. These pines were planted by Burnie and his crew as part of the Y-LTP.

"Before we planted those trees, that land was a cotton field," Burnie remembers. As he talks, his eyes come to rest on the pines across the road. But they don't seem to focus on the trees themselves.

"I sure wish young people today had some kind of program like that one," he says. "Planting trees-on that first day you might look at all the work you got to do and say you can't do it. But you go to work because you have to. Then the next day you go back and see what you did the first day and you say, 'Well, I'm making progress. I believe I'll try it again.' It's that simple."
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Title Annotation:John Arrechea, Burnie Goolsby
Author:Conrad, Jim
Publication:American Forests
Date:Mar 1, 1989
Previous Article:Reserving room for trees.
Next Article:Saving a yankee forest.

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