As 2014 came to a close, so did the life of the ash tree that has shaded the front of our house since we moved here nearly eight years ago.
We got a letter from the City of Hamilton in November letting us know that the tree had to come down. The emerald ash borer, a little beetle native to eastern Asia, has been destroying millions of ash trees across North America and poses a huge threat to ash forests in Hamilton. The City has been addressing the threat by monitoring Hamilton's ash trees (approximately 23,000), and destroying trees that show signs of damage from the ash borer. In addition, 800 "high value" ash trees are being treated with pesticide injections. It's the ash borer larvae that cause the problem: they chomp through the vital layer beneath the tree's bark. Within two years of initial signs of damage to the ash tree, it will be completely dead.
If you drive around the neighbourhoods of east Hamilton, you'll notice that several trees have a white stripe painted on their trunks. These are all ash trees marked for destruction. It's so sad, but it's a measure that will hopefully prevent more ash trees from reaching the same fate.
It was a sunny afternoon just before Christmas when we heard the telltale sounds of the chainsaw coming from the front yard. We watched as, branch by branch, our beloved tree came down. After over 40 years of growing, it took less than an hour for it to be diminished to a naked trunk. I'm being a touch melodramatic, I know. But I'm sad about it.
One of the reasons we bought our house - and knew it would feel like home - was because of the trees on the property (the backyard has a maple, an apple, and a cherry tree). This ash tree in the front yard was many things to us:
The morning after the tree was taken down, I went out my front door to put out the recycling, and I saw a squirrel quite literally walking back and forth slowly in the front lawn, looking befuddled. I kid you not. I'm not sure I've ever seen a squirrel move at walking speed. I can imagine what he/she was thinking: "Huh? What the? There was a tree here yesterday." Hopefully that squirrel didn't have a nest in our tree . . .
The trunk was so thick that the chainsaw couldn't saw all the way through it. The trunk had to be cut in half lengthwise by the stump grinder (second photo) so the chainsaw could get through the rest of the trunk. After the trunk was cut level to the ground, the stump grinder gnawed through the trunk beneath the ground. Pretty bad-ass.
I'm sad about the loss of our tree. The experience of its loss has made me appreciate and think about the vast impact of each tree and the delicate balance of nature. It seems inconceivable that a tiny worm can bring down a mighty tree and outsmart the intelligence and outplay the resources of the humans who try to save the tree.
I've also been made more conscious of the life cycle of trees. Our neighbourhood was established in the first half of the twentieth century, so most of the trees that surround us are mature. In the last five years, several of these beautiful old trees have had to come down for various reasons. New trees have been planted, and in another 40 years, these meagre plants will be majestic givers of shade, accommodation, oxygen, and beauty. And I'm looking forward to seeing the katsura grow through its life cycle in front of my home.
Jane Hogeterp Koopman
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