by Dave Yanko
Note: the Magowans no longer own the land on which the crooked trees stand. See new contact info at bottom of story - ed.
Skip and Linda Magowan's farm in The Thickwood Hills northwest
of Saskatoon is becoming a hot spot for fans of the strange and
The attraction is a stand of aspens economically named 'the crooked
trees' by folks who live in the vicinity. The trees are located
on the northern perimeter of the Magowan farm and they're surrounded
by normal aspens that grow boldly skyward in competition for sunlight.
The crooked trees, on the other hand, feature branches that loop,
twist and reach out in every direction. The effect is an eerie, even haunted appearance.
"Some people say they look like that weird forest in the Ichabod
Crane movie, you know, with the Headless Horseman?" says Linda.
|This aspen's trunk,
photographed in early spring, looks like it belongs to an elephant.
"We get tons of people stopping in here," adds Skip. "One Sunday
I was bailing hay out there and there was traffic all day long.
At one point, there were three motor homes sitting there. And we've
had as many as three bus loads there at a time.
"There have even been people here from Australia and the United
Skip acquired the land from his father and now runs a cattle
and grain operation on it. He says the crooked trees have been there
for as long as he can remember, although the number of trees in
the stand has grown over the years. He says old-timers from the
district claim the unusual trees were not there when the first homesteaders
arrived around 100 years ago.
No one, including a University of Saskatchewan plant breeder who
studied the trees, knows of a similar aspen stand anywhere in the
world. And speculation on how they got this way ranges from the
scientific to the other-worldly.
"There are tons of stories about why they're like that," says Skip.
"One says there was this guy out working in his field, and when
he got close to that place he saw a UFO land. These little green
men came out and urinated on that spot.
"When (the farmer) came back to this area to visit his grandson
years later, he noticed the crooked trees were growing there."
Skip takes no position on the origins of the crooked trees. But
he says there have been a lot of UFO sightings in the area, including
one by his late neighbors who spoke of a bright object that 'woke
them up one night and lit up their whole bedroom.'
Harold Storgard farmed the land across the road from the aspens
before he retired to North Battleford several years ago. He's not
the person who claims to have seen the little green men. But Harold's
been having fun with the crooked trees ever since The Western
Producer farm journal first published an article about them
around 15 years ago.
"Back in the '30s we were infested with jack rabbits," says Harold.
"I called them 'war-horse jack rabbits' because they were big boys,
some the size of Shetland ponies.
"They could run right over the top of those bushes - there was
a lot of snow there then. They used to stop and bite the tops off
those trees and suck the sap right out them. When the snow melted
in spring, the trees were all crooked."
Harold likes to tell stories.
"I'm having a ball over those trees, you know. People will believe
anything you tell them."
Others aren't quite so whimsical.
Danny Lange farms with his father in the Mayfair district
several miles north of the Magowan farm. He recalls as a child his
family taking some visitors to the stand to show them the crooked
Lange says his grandmother was walking among the trees and picking
wild flowers. As everyone was preparing to leave, his grandmother
announced she had the distinct feeling she was stealing the flowers.
"She put her little bouquet down and came to join the rest of us.
And then she said, all of a sudden, that she felt a presence or
Lange says his grandmother's behavior was quite out of character.
She's a down-to-earth woman with no interest in things supernatural.
After the incident, however, she no longer accompanied the family
during its frequent trips to the crooked trees.
"She was quite shaken up," says Lange, "and we used to go there
10 or 15 times a year."
Rick Sawatzky, a plant breeder with the Department of Plant Sciences
at the University of Saskatchewan, touched on the mystery of the
crooked trees through a research project focusing on the clone propagation
of plants using softwood cuttings, or slips.
'Wild' aspens are notoriously difficult to transplant, says Sawatzky.
They propagate by sending out shoots, and digging up one of these
interconnected individuals usually kills it. Sawatzky used advanced
techniques to generate roots on slips cut from the crooked aspens,
and then he planted the cuttings.
|A summer dance.
"Here's the clincher," says Sawatzky, "these things grow the same
way here, on our plots, as they do out there."
Soil conditions at the university are similar to those at Magowan's
farm, he added.
"So we know one thing. The factor -- whether it came from Martians
or it's genetic -- the factor for this growth habit is in the plant.
It can be propagated, and it has nothing to do with location or
Sawatzky strongly suspects the 'crookedness' in the aspens is the
result of a genetic change in one of the earliest trees in the stand.
What caused that change is anybody's guess.
"If the Martians did do it," he chuckles, "they were great environmentalists.
They didn't ruin the soil or anything in the area. They just changed
As for the human visitors, well, not all of them have been so respectful.
Skip recently observed a man loading one of the crooked trees into
his van as a woman and two children looked on.
"It was a dead one," says Skip. "They didn't kill a tree to take
it, but he could have had the courtesy to come and ask. I would
have told him 'go ahead'."
The dilapidated barbed-wire fence that stands between the road
and the aspens does little to deter foot traffic through the area,
nor was it intended to. As more people tread the small stand every
year, however, the unique trees are becoming threatened.
In order to preserve them, and to explore the potential of a new
revenue opportunity for the farm, Skip and Linda have decided to
control access to the crooked trees and charge a loonie (a Canadian
one-dollar coin) for admission.
"We're going to put a fence around it which, according to the guys
at the university, we have to do anyway because the roots are coming
up and it's harming the trees," says Skip.
"We'll build pathways and post signs reminding people to stay on
them," adds Linda. "Maybe we'll even get some souvenirs going --
we're not sure. We've never done this kind of thing before."
Linda says she and Skip won't have the time to staff their little
attraction on a daily basis, so it's likely access to the crooked
trees will be on weekends only.
"We'll have a sign set up down there showing people where to come
if they want to see it on a week day," says Skip. "They could just
come down and get one of us."
Judging by the level of interest in the unusual trees, the Magowans
may well be busier than they expect.
If you're interested in visiting the crooked trees, please phone
the Town of Hafford, during business hours, for directions: 306-549-2331.
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