Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Felling of a Grand Old Dame

Chris took this series of photos of our majestic white oak as it was cut down. This is the "before" image. I estimate the tree to be fifty feet high. A swing hangs from one mighty branch.

This maple was also to get a little trimming. A similarly-sized maple on the other side of the oak is being cut down as well.

The crane has arrived.

The crane, reaching over the house. The oak is the largest mass of green there behind the house.

This fellow directed the proceedings from my mowed meadow.

The first limb is removed. . .

. . .and hoisted. . .

. . .to the front yard, where it is revealed to be as large as an entire tree.

The limb is denuded of smaller branches, which are fed to the chipper.

The bald log is hoisted back over the house to the mowed meadow, where it is cut into firewood.

A quick count of tree rings show the tree to be seventy or eighty years old. But those samples were taken from twenty feet up. I would guess the age of the tree to be around a hundred. I try not to think of that as I look at these pictures.

I had been under the impression that oaks only produce acorns every four years, so I was surprised to see these all over the yard. As it turns out, oaks tend to produce a good crop every two to five years - two, in this case. Add to that that an oak doesn't even begin to produce acorns until it is at least twenty years old, and the tree's last desperate dispersal of nuts is even more poignient.

The squirrels have been busy planting them. I have collected a box of acorns to try cooking with, though I can't say I found the raw flavor to be appealing.

I had wondered how we would eventually get the ragged old swing down. Chris regrets not snapping a photo as the branch came in for a landing: one of the arborists hopped on the swing for a ride.

A professional tree-climber at work.

The top of the tree is hoisted.

And here is the trunk, topped with the arborist. They lopped it off just below the remaining fork, and left twenty feet of trunk standing, as we had requested, for the woodpeckers. The rest, they left for us as logs and mulch.

It pains me to kill a tree, but it had to be done, and these guys did a fantastic job of it. They also came in a whopping $500 lower than their $1500 estimate. So if you live anywhere near Foxboro, Massachusetts, and you need an arborist, call Tree Tech. May we never have to call on them again.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Winter Project

Here's what I'll be working on over the winter. Germination is expected around April.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chris is still hogging the photo-editing computer. . .

. . .and this weekend was exceptionally busy (I got to meet Diana from Garden on the Edge!) so here are some photos of the amazing herb garden at Old Sturbridge Village that I have been saving for a rainy day.

And speaking of rain, it actually has been raining! Today was a gorgeous, wet, cool Autumn day. The first of the trees have tipped into glorious colors.

I think we had three rainfalls all summer, total. I am so done with droughty summer.

But anyway, the herb garden. It's not in the village, but the exit from the park dumps you right there. The village itself is worth many posts of its own. After an afternoon chasing a toddler through reenactments of 19th-century life, I was about ready to drop from exhaustion, but this garden inspired me to snap just a few pictures as we stumbled our way through in pursuit of restrooms.

This was like walking through a perfect magazine garden! I wonder how many gardeners work to keep it weed-free every day?

The smell of the garden was amazing - and I don't usually notice smalls.

When we go back I will have to spend more time looking at the individual plants. In passing, I noticed many types of basil, some sort of gnarly-stemmed rosemary, and stinging nettles. (And having never touched it before, I was tempted to ignore the warning sign for the experience.)

I also noticed an apple tree, hops, and this: horsetail fern, a.k.a. scouring rush. This is a particularly good inclusion given that this is a historic park, and historically, this stuff was used for scrubbing pots. The silicone in it is gritty enough to deter toothed animals from eating it, but makes an excellent abrasive.

I have heard garden professionals recoil in horror at the idea of planting this in a garden. It must take some significant weeding to keep in check. Nonetheless, I wish the wild ones under my poison sumac would spread a little more.

My two very tired adventurers wave from what Gabe calls a "gizzy boat".

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

*glares at husband*

I would prefer to be showing pictures now of the crane hoisting tree limbs over our house, but Chris's computer is the designated photo-editing machine, and right now he is neck deep in the newest iteration of Civilization. If left to his own devices, I think he would emerge from the basement in about a week for a shower.

But I can only pretend to be snobbish about his gamer ways, because I, too, am a gamer; Civ just doesn't happen to be my cup of tea. He thought I was nuts when a couple of months ago I dug out a game that I had originally played back on the Commodore 64.

So, anyway. . .

Look, a bunch of native flowers jammed into a vase! Please laugh; I think this must be the second flower arrangement I've ever made. And no, I don't want to admit to having "arranged flowers"; I have a reputation as a geek to maintain!

I only did it because the sweet everlasting was going to be mowed down in the tree-removal prep, okay? Please don't tell my mother.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The day after.

I'm lacking a suitable picture at the moment to reflect my melancholy mood; our house is no longer in danger of being crushed by the Tree of Damocles. A beautiful, irreplaceable plant has been reduced to various mundane components. So here is a little fellow who turned up in Chris's veggie garden. I airlifted him to a neighbor who has a more robust stand of milkweed, and quite the passion for monarch butterflies.

So, the tree. . . We wanted to have the arborists chop branches to various lengths for garden use, but that would have required lifting large tree segments over the house repeatedly and in many smaller pieces. Nor did they cut lengths of wood into four-foot segments which I had planned to use for cultivating shitake mushrooms. Time was running short, and Chris felt it prudent at that point to let them proceed with their usual methods. I see that as a blessing in disguise, because as much as I would like to recycle the wood in that manner, it would require drilling hundreds of holes, pounding in hundreds of dowels, covering all of that with hot wax, and dragging heavy chunks of tree about the yard. No, I really don't need a project of that magnitude right now.

So, we are left with wood to be aged and chopped for the fireplaces, and mulch, which contains poison ivy and so must be handled with caution. And we are left with one other thing: a twenty-foot trunk still standing. It will put out new growth, no doubt, and it will continue to rot; and the woodpeckers will find it to be fine dining for years to come until it finally falls over and damages nothing in the process.

A smaller maple tree was removed as well for similar safety reasons, and now, standing there without its top, it looks so much larger than it had before. The oak trunk looks gigantic.

Chris did a quick count of the rings of the oak and came in around seventy or eighty years. But that's a core sample taken from twenty feet off the ground. I would guess it's a hundred, poor thing.

Here is one unexpected glint of happiness in all of this: I e-mailed my father the day of the cutting, and found out that he has deep sentiments for trees. How did I not know this? Not only was he already aware of the plight of the American Chestnut and the efforts to restore it, but he holds it in the same regard that I do: that here is the important species to focus on, rather than some charismatic big-eyed mammal at the top of the food chain.

Here is Dad's eulogy for the tree:

"I know it had to be done, but I always hate to see an old tree taken out. I think I'm at heart a Druid. Plus, at some level I just can't help feeling that something that large and old could somehow be self-aware in some manner that's beyond our understanding."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Waiting. . .

I'm at work now, waiting for some files to finish cooking, and dreading what I'm going to find when I get home. Chris is there now, managing the arborists as they euthanize our tree.

This is the mushroom that let us know the tree was rotting at the roots. Perhaps a mycologist could identify it, but I can't.

I seem to have forgotten to upload a few photos; grumf! I had a good one of a stack of these dusting the poison ivy with white spores.

This is the underside of the mushroom. These photos were taken in July, if I remember correctly, and they were taken when the mushroom had finished growing and was busily dusting the area with spores.

More views of the underside of the mushroom.

I'm going to miss our tree.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Getting Ready

In preparation for the tree coming down, it made sense to mow part of the backyard meadow. We will need the space to store the massive quantity branches, wood, and mulch. The arborists could haul it off for us, but what's the point? We're always needing supplies for this project or that. We will be making some unusual requests of the cutting team when they do the deed.

I had already forgotten how noisy and stinky gas-powered mowers are. Grasshoppers fled the mower in droves. This isn't the ideal time of year to be mowing, since so many species are still living among the plants, but the tree needs to come down in a hurry.

Oops! What's that? Chris is chasing something.

More evidence that my overgrown lawn provides animal habitat!

Gabe had a serious look on his face, but he was fascinated by the snake. (And don't worry: we were sure to wash his hands afterwards, since reptiles can be carriers of salmonella.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Busy weekend!

That's not really me watering the grass, in the above photo; it's me, watering my son. It was a hot day and he really wanted to be wet. The end result was a two-year-old, soaked to the skin, beaming as he hauled the spewing hose around "watering" for Mommy.

Anyway, that was one of the photos I used for this week's native plant post at Franklin Matters.

Today we visited, for the first time, Old Sturbridge Village to check out agricultural practices from 200 years ago. I am so exhausted from the outing (and from an unusually hectic week at work) that I can't properly hop up and down while bubbling about what a truly awesome place that is. It's like a renaissance fair, but with dignity. We'll post pictures soon.

In other news, I'm officially a member of the American Chestnut Foundation now, and I'm so geeked out about the tree that I scrutinized the buildings at Old Sturbridge, because, surely, some of them must be made with chestnut wood.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Praying Mantis

When Michelle woke me up the other morning and told me to go take pictures of a praying mantis on the little mulberry tree; leaving my warm bed for the brisk morning air was not high on my list of things to do. Begrudgingly I hauled my sorry carcass out of bed and I'm very happy I did. Since I had to look for myself it took me a minute to spot this big beauty hiding in the leaves, and without Michelle pointing me in the right direction I doubt I'd have spotted it.

The morning light was just about perfect, though a steady breeze made taking its picture incredibly difficult on the tree.

So I picked it up and it quickly went into attack stance.

Then it flew down to the dried out corn stalks I have on the driveway. Which I really need to bundle up.

Everything about these predators is designed to hide them from both prey and their own predators such as birds. Even on the dead corn stalks it blended in well, and its erratic walk made it look very plant like.

This is the last picture I took of it before I picked it up and placed it back on the mulberry tree. It was warming up in the sun and making short flights to get away from me. I wanted it back on the tree to give it a good chance against the crows I heard nearby. I love these bugs!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Alas. . .

Some while ago an internet aquaintence tried to tell me that oak trees were like iron, and could never possibly just fall down. The silly fellow was basing his experience on oak trees out in the desert. Of course oak doesn't rot in the desert; it's dry out there. Dead trees stand up like fence posts for hundreds of years in those conditions, for all I know.

Is this discussion setting off your alarm bells yet? Photo of tree, talk of tree falling down? The good news is that the tree has not deposited itself in our kitchen. The wretched news is that it comes down with the aide of a crane next Monday. This white oak is the magnificent centerpiece of our back yard. It kills me to do this, but the roots are rotting, and it poses a danger to our house.

This was our warning. These mushroom first appeared two summers ago. Awesome, I thought, that might be chicken-of-the-woods! (Chicken-of-the-woods is a highly sought-after wild mushroom, from what I have read; easily identifiable and with a taste like, you know. . .)

Then I read a little more and learned that chicken-of-the-woods spells doom for trees. In all likleyhood, it signaled root rot.

I put my fingers in my ears and played hear-no-evil for a spell. The following summer, no mushrooms appeared. Maybe I imagined the whole thing. But this summer, they were back, as big as straw hats, stacked up like pancakes. It was time to call the arborist.

The tree doc wasn't able to positively identify the mushroom, but he confirmed my fear about rotting roots. He was also able to tell me why the roots were rotting: in the 80's, when the bulldozers flattened the lot to build the house, they dug too deeply around the base of the tree, damaging the roots. You can see in our yard where the ground was scooped from all around the oak, leaving it on an odd mound. The dirt and rocks were piled in heaps around the edge of the wetland.

Almost thirty years later the damage is finally doing the tree in. The crown is healthy, but a good gust of wind could topple the oak without notice. Not only is our kitchen directly in the line of fire, but if we were to leave it standing now - a known danger - and it were to fall on our house, our homeowner's insurance wouldn't cover the damage.

To be continued. . .

Monday, September 13, 2010

Franklin State Forest, Easement

My heart melts when I see these giant power easements. The ugly, looming power lines guarantee that even in the heart of suburbia there is a strip of wild meadow. I grew up with one of these endless tracks of wilderness as my back yard.

This one is a part of the Franklin State Forest. The entrance is directly across from the YMCA. Motorcyclists share the path with cyclists and pedestrians.

The meadow is covered in goldenrod right now.

Absolutely covered.

So many kinds of goldenrod!

So much goldenrod!

Oh. Heh. That's not goldenrod. That's ragweed.

This, not goldenrod, is what makes people sneeze. Goldenrod pollen is evolved to be big and sticky, to be carried by insects. Ragweed pollen is evolved to float about in the air.

Ragweed isn't a native plant, by the way. Wouldn't it be nice if it had stayed in South America?

Is this barren strawberry, or am I just being optimistic?

This weed's common name is "Gabe". He doesn't cause allergies.

Oh nuts, I had found the name of this humble flower once before, but I've lost it. It's common something-or-other, a meadow native.

No idea what this is!

Some sort of aster.

Come back Gabe! Mommy is sorry for being so obsessed with plants!