Trees get to the heart of this farmer
• By John F. Chisholm •
Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 – One of my favorite trees blew down in Saturday’s gale. A majestic black spruce, it was torn from the ground, roots and all, and laid low by the wind. The frost couldn’t hold it. Indeed, perhaps the frost lifted it enough to loosen its grip. The underlying soil was completely saturated. That couldn’t have helped. Compounding it all, spruce trees are notorious for their shallow root systems.
Surely these were all factors but have I missed other contributors? The sad truth is that I can’t say with absolute certainty what led to its demise.
That’s the problem. I’d like to know in order to correct my behaviors.
I cut that spruce up for kindling yesterday, thinking of the strange relationship between myself and trees.
The heartwood was sound and strong, unafflicted by carpenter ants.
Around here, they’re a scourge in most of the balsam fir and more than a few hardwoods as well.
There was an owl’s nest high in its crown. The rodent remains, fecal-formed, confirmed it.
Years ago when I discovered this tree, it was shaded, crowded out by white aspen and balsam poplar, struggling valiantly to survive. I thinned around it, giving it room. It grew luxuriantly thereafter, spreading its branches, turning a dark, mysterious green. It filled its corner of our woodlot with the whisper of needles and the scent of spruce gum.
I even patted myself on the back. What an improvement over the poplars!
Now I wonder about my policies. Did I help that tree or hurt it by clearing away the competition?
The question is important because I have innumerable favorites. That’s not saying I can put my finger on exactly what singles any given tree out for the list. Perhaps if I could do that, I could tell if my affection helps or hinders their progress.
Trees that survive in poor or shallow soils, that struggle and persevere though winter’s hardships and gales while still managing to lend beauty to my life, always attract my attention. If they’re alone, without others of their species nearby for comfort, that adds to their appeal. If, on top of that, they’re in dark and secret places, I prune the deadwood from their trunks and clear around them.
Normally that helps. Sometimes, specifically with apple trees, the added light and air causes explosive growth. That, in turn, should they be afflicted by fire blight, kills the trees. (A ghastly disease, fire blight targets new growth.) Was it my fault or the blight’s that the tree I labored to help, died?
I have a soft spot for beech trees. Sure, beech nuts are delicious, but my affection runs deeper than that. I admire everything from their smooth, gray bark, to the way they keep their leaves through the winter, to their willingness to take any shape at all. Unlike elms or ash trees, just for example, they don’t care what they look like. (Being bald, I feel a deep kinship with that attitude.) Alas! There aren’t many beeches on this property. I guard their locations jealously, checking periodically to ensure that they’re well.
Both white and gray birches are common here. More to the point, they hybridize. Their offspring are taller than gray birches, less apt to grow in clumps and achieve some bizarre shapes as a result of their heritage. That lends them real character. I admire that. I prune them judiciously and try to help.
And so on. I could carry on for paragraphs about maples. We have some beautiful oaks, innumerable, gnarled black cherry trees, several black locusts and a pecan tree as well. I even enjoy tamaracks. Evergreens that loses their needles every fall? Come on. What’s not to like?
In fact, I may as well come right out and say it: I love trees.
Turning a favorite spruce tree into kindling made me realize that and something else as well: These trees have shaped me, too. Profoundly. Way down deep in the heartwood where it matters.
I simply want to ensure, if I’m allowed to return the favor, that I do it correctly. I want to be the blessing to them that they are to me.