The Trees Are My Most Dangerous Friends

Musings Mother Nature
The Trees Are My Most Dangerous Friends

It’s not even our tree. The enormous beech, with its dozens of branches reaching out like so many arms as much as 30 or 40 feet from the stout trunk, belongs to our next-door neighbors. It is a gorgeous tree, sitting alone in the center of their yard, a majestic provider of shade and character. It is fair to say that it played a part in our deciding to move here; when you come out the back door that tree is more or less the first thing you notice — like some ancient drawing of a nature deity, picture-perfect and inviting, like a welcome sign for the neighborhood.

Also it took out our internet this weekend.

The beech, our neighbors have been told, is actually starting to rot. It is alive, but ailing, and probably needs to come down. Very suddenly, the tree has started to publicly agree with this sentiment. A few days ago, we heard a crash and went out back to see one of those long branches had cracked off at the trunk and fallen from about 4o feet in the air, and was resting precariously on the neighbors’ power line. I went over to help ease it off and on to the ground. Two days later, a second, bigger branch, from a bit lower down, managed to crash on our side of the fence, snapping the internet cable and again resting heavily on the power line.

This was not the first such incident in our little tree-rich corner of Baltimore in the nearly two years we have lived here. The neighbor on our other side had an enormous oak come down during a thunderstorm last summer; in an uncanny miracle of randomness, it somehow fell almost directly between their house and the next one, barely clipping a bit of roof and taking out some fencing; a few degrees to either side and I’m not clear how a house could have survived the hit. On walks with the dog, it seems like there is almost always some bit of forest debris waiting to be removed from a road; the sound of tree crews and mulching trucks is frequent.

They seem to be coming down at rates that confuse me; these are often big, old trees, likely well past 50 years old if not 100 or more. There are plenty of smaller, younger trees around as well, but I find the math baffling: are they growing fast enough to match the pull that gravity and increasingly wet weather is apparently having? Are the rates changing, or is the current state of tree affairs at risk?

Regardless: the trees, of course, are good. They make the neighborhood pretty, and pleasant, and cool. They harbor all the birds I listen to all day, and all year. The trees are, without question, my friends.

But they are my most dangerous friends. With these various incidents piling up, I now eye up the foliage with a wary look. I glance out our window at the big oak out front, the Japanese cedar by the side of the house, the maple threateningly perched between us and the neighbor who dodged the bullet last year. Which way would it fall? Which branch is ready to come down?

I don’t like this new seedling of doubt in my brain! I do not want to judge the trees, to question our friendship and worry at their plans. I want only to sit in the shade and admire, walk under their outstretched arms, and quietly but harshly condemn everyone blasting their gas-powered leaf blowers each year to clean up after our towering friends. But every time a storm rolls through, or when the wind picks up for days at a time in November and December, the doubt sprouts another branch, and sinks its roots slightly deeper.

Our internet restored, I stood out on the deck and looked up at the beech, now two branches poorer than a week ago. When it goes, it will look like some enormous and malign creature ripped a hole in the sky.

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