Tending the urban forest

When we moved to town I thought I was giving up my special relationship with trees. Living in the woods, trees were my cathedral, my companions, my inspiration. I learned things about trees that I might not have if they hadn’t dominated my environment.

Trees are a force to be reckoned with. They are powerful in a calm way. They have a kind of energy that you can sense when you get on their wavelength. The easiest way to put this is that I can meditate with trees; they help me get into that state. I have written about this.

Of course there are trees in town, lots of them. But my house in the woods belonged to the trees. In town, except for parks and other natural areas, trees belong to the houses. They are ornaments and elements of the landscape, providers of shade, not usually appreciated as beings in themselves. Graciously they serve the built environment. We mostly ignore them except when they leaf out and bloom in spring and burn bright in autumn and shed their leaves.

But they are still trees. There is a “treeness” about them. You just have to pay attention.

After I moved into my study on the second floor of the Pink Lady I started paying attention to the tall Black Oak right outside my window, in front of my nose. It is gnarled, its limbs lopped into awkward elbows, its canopy narrowed by pruning rather than spreading wide as it would if it were in the middle of a field. But it has the beautiful shiny, leathery leaves of its species and it is way taller than this three-story house. A formidable presence.

Next to the oak is what I believe is a Norway spruce, nearly as tall as the oak. The robins and squirrels that dart between the trees often stop off on the dormer that juts out beside my window. Well! A bit of nature right here on easy view if I look up from my computer, which I am always happy to do.

These trees have probably been around as long as the house, which was built in 1889. Who is to say the house belongs to me more than to them? I am starting to love these two old trees in the front yard.

The trees in the backyard are another matter. Most of them, except for an American Elm, seem to have planted themselves over the years. They are the hardy trees that seed and thrive in the city: locust, mulberry, silver maple. You might call them weed trees. Some have reached a very respectable size.

The backyard was pretty much a jungle when we moved in. It had been untended for decades while the house underwent a long-drawn-out renovation. Some trees were dead or dying, others were leaning out perilously over beds of tangled vines, including enough poison ivy to keep me out.

We did the proper consultations, first with the Historic Preservation Commission and then with the city forester, and decided to cut down some trees. I had no qualms about this. Although I am literally a tree-hugger, I am not sentimental.

In an exciting, long day of work, the tree-cutters moved in with their bucket lift, shredder, and stump grinder. Seven trees bit the dust. A huge locust, which was dangerously split down the middle, took hours to remove, branch by branch, chunk by chunk from the top, which was far above the bucket’s reach. Tree-climbing, anyone? Our 2-year-old grandson would have been thrilled to watch the show.

By evening the backyard jungle had been thinned considerably, opening a view to what lies beyond. Unfortunately, it’s not a great view. I think of it as a blank slate for some serious landscaping and gardening. I want to plant more trees and shrubs, and soon.

Last evening we sat on our side porch after dinner and watched two baby raccoons scrambling on the thin branches of a mulberry tree, stuffing themselves. I have never been fond of raccoons, but these kits were adorable. Maybe I am sentimental after all. They are part of my urban forest.

2 thoughts on “Tending the urban forest

  1. I love your writing abilities. This blog has inspired me to engage with my trees for I, too, have found solice and healing from trees in the past.
    I am curious to learn how your back yard wilderness turns out.

    • Thank you, Barb. You have some wonderful trees, not least the one that grows through your deck. Any suggestions for our backyard wilderness are welcome!

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