Jim Miner recently strolled through his spacious backyard on a warm January afternoon. He crossed a barely bubbling New York Creek still within his property line and pointed to how high he’s seen the water rise in the years he’s lived in his home on Tam O Shanter Drive.
Miner knows just where the invisible line is drawn — where his land ends and the El Dorado Hills Community Service District’s public open space begins. Created to buffer St. Andrew’s Village and Stonegate subdivisions, it’s also where a small forest of 150 trees bought, planted and tended by Miner have continued to flourish for more than 25 years.
Miner, 86, said the open space was “nothing but open field and cows grazing” when he and wife Meg moved to El Dorado Hills in 1984.
“Stonegate was built a few years later and the CSD was given nine acres of open space,” he said. “They told neighbors (residents of St. Andrews Village) we could plant trees for privacy if we wanted since it was public land.”
A few neighbors decided to plant a tree or two, but Miner planted 80 right away. He started with “cheap trees” and perimeter trees and then moved up to nursery trees and “native species,” he said, sharing wisdom he’s learned over the years and memories of the trees’ upkeep during a walking tour.
Miner said acorn trees are the easiest to plant and still scratches his head over the pair of eucalyptus that stand feet apart; one thrived during a freeze while the other seemed to perish before growing back with two stumps. He planted four Christmas trees, some redwoods and much more. Yet Miner humbly insists he still doesn’t know much about dendrology. And he can’t choose a favorite type or variety of tree. He just laughs and says all 150 are like his kids.
Miner planted most of the saplings in half-gallon milk jugs and when it came time to transfer the first 80 he told his wife, “I need 80 holes!” So he went out and “quickly hired someone to dig 80 holes for $80.”
In the years since, Miner figures he’s planted at least 70 more trees.
Today a small forest born of his own two hands proudly lines New York Creek trail from its start on Tam O Shanter and stretches well-beyond toward Jackson Elementary.
Miner still maintains his trees out of his own desire and a feeling of duty, and maybe “just a little bit of selfishness,” he joked. He climbs on his John Deere tractor and mows the grass around the trees four times a year and thought to clear a fire path for emergency vehicles years ago.
“I don’t think I want all this publicity, but what the heck,” the 6-foot-2 father of two and grandfather of five said more than once.
Miner grew up in Lincoln and served in the Navy as an electrician from 1945-49. He and his wife of 58 years raised their son and daughter in Rancho Cordova before moving to El Dorado Hills.
The open space is a treasure trove and visual memory lane for Miner. He planted many of the trees, but delights in what others have done as well. He points out the 20-plus-foot poplars “detention kids” had to plant on a Saturday morning two decades ago. He insisted we walk through “the secret trail high school kids still use” today before coming out on the other side to respectfully highlight two evergreens, which his friend who recently lost his battle to cancer planted years ago. Miner knows where the “volunteer trees” are — the trees that grew because a seed happened to settle there — as well as a mighty oak his grandkids climbed until the day a branch cracked and he made it off-limits. Miner also pointed out the bench he and his young granddaughter painted over when they saw bad words and then the other bench seat he constructed in his home wood shop just a month ago.
Miner was a roofing contractor until 2003 when he recalled, “My arthritic old body was up on a ladder and I thought, ‘You dang fool you don’t belong up here!” He was a commercial roofing consultant until 2009 when Meg began to need 24/7 care in her last years of Alzheimer’s. She died in January 2013.
Of the tidy home he keeps, Miner said, “Meg wouldn’t have it any other way.” He’s lost all hearing in his right ear and some in his left, but his mind and body are sharp. Of his hearing loss, Miner said he was a competitive shotgun and rifle shooter for years and “thought only sissies put cotton in their ears … Boy did I learn.”
Miner was recently recognized by the CSD with a certificate for the landscaping and care of Tam O Shanter Drive.
“He takes care of our neighborhood,” said CSD Board President and Miner’s neighbor Billy Vandegrift.
“Jim has come into the CSD and given us a lot of advice over the years that’s saved us money in the long run,” said Director Wayne Lowery.
“It’s a nice backyard,” said Miner of his years of beautification. “The trees make it look a whole lot better and they give us privacy.”