Making way for the future

Staff Writer
Story City Herald

Naturally Speaking

—by Steve Lekwa

I make lists of things I want to accomplish in the days ahead. Some get done on time, but others get pushed farther and farther into the future as more pressing tasks pop up. I put off deciding what to do for weeks, and have mixed emotions about one of the tasks planned for the coming week: cleaning up the remains of the largest tree on my double lot in Nevada.

We moved here 24 years ago and there were several trees on the lot. The largest was a seedless Green Ash about 15 feet tall and maybe 10 inches in diameter. It’s the only one of the original trees still left unless I consider the apple tree that was a tiny seedling growing out of a hedge of Columnar Buckthorn. The Spruce wasn’t in a good spot given the frequent wetness of the back yard. The Weeping Willow behind the garage grew quickly, but had bad form and was prone to breakage. The Buckthorns died out over several years and were removed. The Spruce was dug up and given away. The Weeping Willow was cut down to make room for a stronger tree that turned out to be a beautiful American Purple Ash. That leaves the Green Ash, now a mature tree more than 30 feet tall and with a similar spread. Its trunk is nearly 24 inches in diameter. Birds perch in it to await their turns at the nearby bird feeders or fly into its branches to eat the seeds they have found. Its spreading shade is subduing my garden too much of the day, though, and is beginning to deform nearby neighbors, a Flowering Crab, a Service Berry, and a Blue Spruce.

The recent discovery of Emerald Ash Borer in Story City meant that my Green Ash, and all the other ash trees in the area, are doomed unless they are given expensive treatments of systemic insecticide every year or two. I learned that the larger the tree, the more expensive and less effective those treatments would be. I opted to begin treatment of the younger Purple Ash next spring. I also opted to have a tree service cut down the mature Green Ash, a project scheduled for later this week if weather permits. I have the equipment to cut down the tree myself, but it’s too close to too many things that could be damaged. The crew I hired will climb the tree to take it down safely, a piece at a time, until only the trunk is left. There’s space to drop that safely without hitting anything once the branches are gone.

A magazine article offered an old Greek proverb that helped me make up my mind about what to do with my old ash tree. The proverb states that “Societies become great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.” I have always loved planting trees, but there was no room to plant more trees on my double lot unless something else gave way to make room. I have already reserved the ash tree’s replacement at the upcoming Re-Leaf tree sale program sponsored by Story County Conservation. It will be a Kentucky Coffee Tree, a hardy native legume distantly related to locusts. They typically grow on flood plain terraces, a site similar to where a small grove of them grows near where I grew up. My back yard is hardly a flood plain, but can become too wet for some trees to thrive during wet years. I think the Kentucky Coffee Tree will do nicely there and will not create quite as much shade as the ash. The Flowering Crab and Service Berry will appreciate the additional sunlight that should reach them, and should set significantly more fruit for the birds to enjoy. My garden will bear more crops for me to enjoy, as well. I’ll miss watching the birds that have perched so close to our dining room window in that old ash tree, though. I guess I’ll just have to keep the binoculars handy to watch them in the other trees I have planted nearby.