Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. So it is appropriate, I guess that this week my neighborhood has had to have all its ash trees cut down. It has been like a mini-armageddon around here.

This draconian measure is a desperate attempt to halt the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer. The Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) was discovered in Michigan in July 2002. It is a species of metallic wood boring beetle (Buprestidae) that attacks ash (Fraxinus), usually killing trees in one-three years.

We have known about this troublesome pest for several years now, but most of the trees in our neighborhood seemed quite robust. The front of our house has two beautiful ash trees--or, I should say had

I was sitting in my den working yesterday when I heard the unmistakable sound of large saws nearby. I went to my front door and was stunned to see county vehicles disposing of my two trees, which had just been cut down! Across the street in the park they had already removed about a half dozen trees and as I looked out the glass screen door of my front porch, it was like looking out over a vast, empty expanse.

Feeling a bit like Arthur Dent, I went running outside shouting at the men to stop, even though it was far too late already. The men were completely unsympathetic, noting that it had been in the paper that all ash trees were going to be cut down. This had been planned for at least a year, one of the supervisors informed me.

I reflexly looked up at the sky to see if the Vogon destructor ship had arrived yet to make way for some intergalactic freeway. Actually, I didn't, but it certainly seemed like I was in the middle of a Douglas Adams novel.

Although stressed ash trees are always more prone to borer attack, the evidence suggests that even healthy, well-maintained trees are also killed by the beetle. As far as I knew, all the trees in the neighborhood were either completely healthy or in the initial stages of infestation. As the EAB larvae feed on the bark, the initial damage to the tree appears as thinning and dieback in the upper canopy of the tree.

Today, I walked around the neighborhood to view the devastation. Most of the homes, like ours, had once had one or two of these beautiful trees in the front yard. They are all gone and their beuatiful leaves will no longer provide any shade when the summer heat arrives. It is a very different neighborhood now. You don't fully appreciate the "feel" of warmth and protection that trees provide, I guess, until they are no longer there. It feels vulnerable now; open and cold.

I suppose I imagined that since they had looked fine in the fall, our trees would be spared execution. I'm sure the detailed plans to cut them down were on display in the basement of one of the county offices of unknown address; or filed in a particularly inaccessible place for the appropriately legal time. I know that I have no excuse for not knowing what was going to happen...but I do wish that we had been notified at least a day or so in advance.

I would have liked to say goodbye.

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