Monday, October 10, 2011

We Have Been Killing Pine Trees

I will never forget going outside one morning when my youngest daughter was a newborn and I was unable to do much work to find that a pine tree, which looked perfectly healthy the previous night and indeed still possessed green needles, had fallen across our patio. It knocked down part of the fireplace chimney and crushed part of the retaining wall. I sent my older daughter back inside the house to inform her father that he was going to be removing the tree, by himself, from the patio that morning instead of pursuing other activities.

When my oldest daughter was a toddler, we played in the back yard under the shade of the pine trees one morning.   A wind arose, and during the afternoon, the house shook. I went outside to find an enormous pine tree lying across the area in which we had been playing. It was safely on the ground without damaging any structures. As I recall, it, too, appeared green and healthy. We stay away from trees when it is windy.


Although we carefully surveyed the area for dead or dying trees before we put in a new shed, a large pine, in the inexplicable way of pine trees, suddenly died a couple of weeks after we put in the shed. Its rapid death might have had something to do with the loud chomping from the thousands of pine beetles that have infested our woods. Their chomping was loud enough to compete with sound of the crickets’ songs at night, and they were quickly moving from tree to tree in the forest and had killed or were killing several trees.






Repaired patio with more trees waiting to die and fall onto the patio; the chimney blocks the view of the shed.

The tree was too near the shed, the house, and other obstacles for anyone besides a professional to cut the tree.  Because we would have to have someone in to cut the dead tree, we decided to cut some more trees. In the back yard, there were trees near buildings and they stole nutrients and water from my perennial beds.

My vegetable garden lies in an area that was previously forest. My father cut down those trees, many of which were entirely too close to the house anyway, and stopped when he felt he was too close to the power lines to continue cutting the trees. The remaining trees, however, shaded the garden and their roots soaked up nutrients and water that might otherwise go to the vegetable plants. They were just waiting for an opportunity to fall across the garden or the power lines.

 



The vegetable garden before trees were cut.  We cut the line of tall pines at the end of the garden, and I plan to put in a fruit orchard there.

We had the trees cut a couple of weeks ago by professionals that had all the necessary equipment and insurance. Tree cutting is very dangerous; I will not forget the sight of the man who bravely climbed 60 or more feet to the top of a pine tree, cut all the limbs out of the top, and then cut the tree down above him in sections about 10 feet long. When he cut a section, a rope tied to the section he was cutting and to another tree or a backhoe pulled it away from him and he hung onto the new top of the wildly swaying tree. I am thankful that neither people nor buildings were injured during the work.


At the bend of the tree is a man who has cut off the tree piece by piece, and has now cut off the top.  

God finally answered my prayers for rain, but in His time, as usual. As the men were getting ready to leave, I heard the first peals of thunder of the monsoon that gave us some of the season’s rain, about 4 inches, within a few days. I am thankful that the rain waited until the heavy equipment left; while they worked, the soil was dry and dusty.  Digging up soil with hand tools bulldozers have packed down is not fun.  I have fought erosion by moving some of the two enormous piles of mulch into the areas the soil washes, and I will plant cover crops as soon as I can to stop the erosion and to improve the soil. 

I have plans for my new garden space, and even though the size of the task is a bit overwhelming at times, I will eventually get the work done.  I would like to have more fruit trees, blueberry, blackberry, fig, and raspberry bushes, and grape vines. I will replace some of the pine trees and sweet gum trees with dogwoods and other ornamental trees that don’t have the pesky habit of falling over for no apparent reason, or, in the case of sweet gum trees, strewing balls covered with sharp points all over the yard. Next spring, I will enjoy the exuberant growth I expect from my existing plantings now that they no longer have to compete with pine trees for nutrients.


I do hate killing trees. Many of these trees were older than I am, and they are majestic, at least until they die and fall over on their own. I am going to replant the area with trees and shrubs that will provide us with beauty and food. It’s not as if I’m putting in a parking lot. I have enough mulch now to last me for years, and the tree service gave the trees to a pulpwood company that will turn them into paper and other products.  We have two large piles of firewood.  There is little waste.
 
It will take some time to transform the cleared area into the fruit orchard I want, and in the interim, I will continue to give myself the pep talk I gave myself that encouraged me to begin the process: “I’d rather have apple trees than pine trees.”  We still have plenty of trees in the woods, and many of them are beautiful oaks and maples, trees that don't usually fall over dead one morning with no warning. 

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