Jeff Kaufman, a retired doctor from Massachusetts, has made a point of visiting the same American elm for nearly two decades. Why? “This tree is a survivor,” he says. “Like many old American elms, it’s located in an isolated place where Dutch elm disease couldn’t get to it.”
The elm, which Kaufman estimates to be about 150 years old, stands in the middle of a field against the backdrop of the Berkshire Hills in western Massachusetts. It’s 95 miles from the nearest urban area, the small town of Egremont. Kaufman says that if you position yourself in a certain way, you can get a clear view of the tree with no evidence of human presence in the background. “It’s only when I photograph the tree that I realise how alone it really is. It’s very peaceful,” he says.
He first saw the elm in 2002, when he was staying with a friend at his holiday home in the Berkshires. “He suggested we drive up to see it as it’s a bit of a famous tree locally. I had a patient who was a farmer in the town and we would discuss the tree and the surrounding farms.”
The elm left an impression on Kaufman and he began to stop by at every opportunity. “I was lucky in that the tree was en route whenever I went to visit my family in Copake, New York. It’s always a worthwhile diversion and I now have more than 100 photos of the tree in all seasons, some of which were good enough to give to others as gifts.”
Above all, Kaufman is thankful that the elm has survived to be appreciated. “Anyone can see it, anyone can walk up to it. American elms aren’t the most colourful, but this one doesn’t need to be bright to be special. Its joy lies in the fact that it’s hiding in plain sight.”
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