Wednesday, January 25, 2012

 This is an oldie that I never put up on here, because I didn't like the final edited version that made it into the paper. But here's my version... from sometime in June.


In the aftermath, there's nothing left in the Zacks' front yard but the muddy scars of tire tracks, piles of rain-soaked woodchips and the gaping expanse of a stump the size of a kitchen table. Six feet in diameter, the stump is all that's left of one of what was just days ago one of the largest elm trees remaining in the state of Vermont.

“This is just surreal,” says Mary Beth Zack, standing on her front steps with a camera, stealing one last picture as truck full of massive logs backs out of her driveway, carrying with it the last pieces of the tree she's looked out at for the past twenty years. “It's surreal to look out and not see it there.”

It took Stuart Rice and his crew at Rice Tree Service two days to remove the behemoth, which he estimates was over 100 feet tall, 16 feet around and spread 150 feet from “tip end to tip end.” Four men with massive chainsaws, bars three feet long, tackled the tree from the top down, taking care at in the final hours to make sure the trunk toppled in the only direction it safely could without crushing the Zacks' home. When it was over, there was little left of the landmark that Rice's family has been tending for generations.

Stuart Rice was matter-of-fact about it. “I'd like to say it's the biggest tree I've taken down, but it's not,” he said. “I've done bigger and taller. But it's right up there.”

“It's sad to see those old guys go,” said Diane Weber of West Fairlee, who drives down Route 113 in Thetford twice a day on her way to and from work. “That tree is the first thing you see when you come up that hill. What a shame.”

Difficult though it may be for some, it was time for the tree to be removed. Like thousands of other elms, the last big tree in Thetford had finally succumbed to Dutch elm disease.

It was a little scary, having that big dead tree so close to the house,” Zack said. When she and her family moved to the neighborhood 20 years ago, they had no idea what they were taking on. "This has been an enormous undertaking, ” she added, referring to her family as the "keeper of the tree."

Every year, the elm needed maintenance from Rice Tree Service, including regular injections with a fungicide to ward off Dutch elm disease. But in the end, the injections weren't enough. Dutch elm disease, which decimated American forests and elm-lined streets in the mid-1900s, won the battle.

Along with other introduced pathogens, Dutch elm disease changed the landscape of the northeast. Instead of the straggly, second- or third-growth forests we see today, the region was once covered with a towering canopy of chestnuts, beeches, elms, white pines and hemlocks that spread their branches over a soft, nearly brushless forest floor maintained by regular forest tires.

Each of the trees that once dominated northeastern woodlands has been hit in some way by pathogens introduced from other continents. Just as Native American populations had no resistance to introduced human diseases, American trees had no resistance to foreign insects, fungi and disease.

Some tree species, like the American chestnut, have been so thoroughly eliminated that little hope remains for reintroducing them. For the fast-growing American elm, though, even as individual trees like that in Thetford fall to age and disease, there's hope that the species will experience a comeback.

For one thing, the dense concentrations that once facilitated the spread of Dutch elm disease no longer exist, so younger trees have a higher chance of survival. Additionally, the Elm Research Institute in Keene, N.H. has propagated a disease-resistant elm hybrid that, it claims, preserves the traditional shape and hardiness (of the American elm), unlike European or Asian hybrids.” By 2007, more than 350,000 “Liberty elms” had been planted, and less than 1 percent had succumbed to disease.

Though some scientists are concerned that the genetically-identical elms, grafted from a single resistant tree, have little chance against a new strain of the disease, there is nonetheless hope that they will reproduce with other native elms, producing a genetically diverse, resistant generation of the stately trees that were once symbolic of the American dream. 

In Thetford, Mary Beth Zack sits at the table in the newly renovated kitchen of her 1801 farmhouse, no longer hidden behind the great elm that once dominated the property. As she posts pictures of the tree's removal on Facebook, friends, family and neighbors immediately post comments or call her cell phone.

We hope we don't get run out of town now that the 'hallowed' elm is down,” Zack says jokingly.

She gets up and stands in her doorway in the rain, surveying the newly-bare front yard. She said she'll probably plant another tree, something that grows quickly, but she's not sure what yet. Maybe a Liberty elm.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Nature Blog Network