Friday, December 9, 2016

Changing Landscape

One of the few photos I have of a good part of the property before.

House and trees in late fall.

Red oak flanked by pignut hickories in late fall, in winter, and in the following spring.

Red oak and pignut hickory growth in summer.

One consequence of being on a first-name basis with neighborhood trees is noticing their absence.  I have seen a number of trees cut down in the last few years, beginning with "my" big, healthy sugar maple--cut by its owner because she thought it "invasive."  (Sugar maple is native; I pointed out the true invasive: her big Norway maple.)  Most of these vanished trees have been nodding acquaintances, but a few, like that sugar maple, were being officially observed for Nature's Notebook; necessitating the notation"DD" beside their names in the logbook.*  Now I must add more.

In a forest, dead trees often do not fall for years, and then may rot gradually to mould over decades more.  One of the bizarre facts of death in an urban landscape is "disappearance without a trace": tree removal companies pride themselves on erasing all signs that a tree even existed, carrying off trunk and branches, and even grinding down the stump and sometimes even landscaping over it.

I had always been attracted by a property a few blocks from me.  A large, pleasantly-unkempt yard was fronted by a tumble-down split rail fence, with brush and trees at one end, and a small yellow house at the other.  An open shed at the back held old equipment and a boat trailer made of wood.  The remains of an old farm stand decayed gently.  A gigantic Norway spruce stood near the house.  The yellow house had a peculiar shape that spoke additions; the one-car garage had a swinging door which ought to have an old car with wood-spoked wheels behind it--I don't know since I never saw the door open.  The house had reached that picturesque stage of slow decay.  I never saw the owner, and assumed there was an elderly couple inside, or a widow or widower.  Mostly I was there for the large red oak and two pignut hickories that overhung the street.  One hickory in particular I valued for the low branches that allowed me to watch the development of flowers and nuts up close. 

Things began changing early this year.  Contractors appeared.  Trucks drove all around the Norway spruce, which soon died.  (Since Norway spruce is invasive, and commonplace in the neighborhood, I did not mourn.)  A new roof went on the house.  The dead tree was cut down.  The porch was enclosed, and the garage became a room.  A new stoop was followed by a new front walk, which was landscaped and planted and mulched.  They did a nice job, though it was a little surreal to see all this personal detail in a house that was unoccupied.  I understand the owner had died, and the house was being rehabilitated as affordable housing.  At the time, I did not wonder what that would mean.

It means the the property will be subdivided into more house lots.

A few days ago I found this out the hard way.  All the trees on the property are gone; only low stumps--some two feet or more across--remain.  I will count their rings.  My red oak and hickories have been discharged dead.  I will miss them, but I will miss even more the humpy ground, the unkempt lawn turning to woods, the shed and stand, the decayed fence, the yellow of hickories turning in fall.

Last spring the big Norway spruce was gone, and the house was being transformed.

 The old shed can't be much longer for this world.

 The house today.

 Elliot Tree does fast, efficient, neat work, curse them.

 Only stumps remain; here are some.  Ages at death are roughly 96 & 100 (double trunk), 44, 100, & 50.  (The last is too messy to count.)

Have you ever come upon something so changed 
that it just didn't register?  That was my experience here.

*Discharged Dead, a notation of British naval captains in the days of sail.  

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