The Dart: Multitude of memories

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bird reminisces about tree of knowledge


[Editor&8217;s note: The Dart is a weekly feature where a Times staffer throws a dart at a map of Demopolis, then goes out to find a story where the dart landed. It runs Thursdays.]

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Just as the road curves at the west end of Washington Street a peculiar, leafless tree stands guard outside a bright blue building. Tacked across the base of the tree, a sign proclaims it as &8220;the tree of knowledge.&8221;

Another sign, made of an old license plate, is emblazoned with &8220;desire.&8221; This sign, along with many others that used to hang on the tree, are the work of Jim Bird, a self-described collector of old things.

Bird said the tree was once just a piece of driftwood floating down the Tombigbee River. He found a new home and purpose for it as the tree of knowledge.

Peering into one of the branches that fell from it, Bird scans the dense, hard wood and tells me, &8220;This is cedar. It will be here longer than you or I will.&8221;

When he first put up this display, Bird said he had a whole stack of discarded license plates from the probate office. He painted words like &8220;life&8221; and &8220;health&8221; on them and distributed them to friends in town, only asking they put one up if any of them were to be taken down.

To the untrained eye, this tree looks out of place, but for Bird it is just one of many projects he has undertaken. Some call it folk art. Bird preffers to think of it as a way to pass the time.

Perhaps most famous for his elf for the Christmas on the River parade or his hay creations in Forkland, Bird says he never does a project that costs more than $5. To his knowledge, the only one that ever cost him more was his larger than life tin man, made of discarded oil drums for the body and a myriad of scrap metal parts he collected over the years.

When asked where his ideas come from, Bird said he doesn&8217;t really know. Perhaps his friends and family know best.

Behind the tree of knowledge sits what once was home to a wagon shop, and later a machine shop. With most of its roof missing and vegetation being more abundant than window panes, the building seems to be a haven for objects that seem to have outgrown their usefulness. But in Bird&8217;s eyes, every tractor steering wheel, riverboat trestle, discarded trophy and claw-footed bathtub has a future purpose.

Bird, now 81 years old, says a friend once told him the secrets to a happy life, a credo he has followed unknowingly for many years.

First, get rid of the stress in your life. Second, love your wife. Third, take Vitamin C supplements. Fourth, get out and do some work every day.

Before we I go, I ask him to spell his last name for me.

He signs &8220;Jim&8221; and doodles the image of bird beside it.