Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Ashes to Ashes

If you live outside Michigan's lower peninsula, southern Ontario, or northwestern Ohio, you may have the luxury of ignorance of the emerald ash borer. Unless you live in a climate that doesn't support temporate hardwoods, you should expect to hear about it in the next few years.

This invasive insect eats the pulp of ash trees, killing them.

Coincidentally, I have a particular fondness for ash trees. Our first fall in Ann Arbor, over ten years ago, I walked absent mindedly under a tree on Ashley Street (near Doughtey Montessori, for locals). The change in light was so dramatic and brought on a sense of euphoria so strong that I stopped and looked up. The most cheerful, radiant yellow was above and on me, in leaves and reflected light.

I had to do some investigating with my Michigan Trees book to discover that this miracle tree, this font of cheer, was an ash. A white ash, to be specific. From that time on, I hunted for ash trees in the fall, drawn to their yellow core and burgundy periphery. Maples may have the market on fall reds, but nothing beats an ash for multi-hued drama.

Ash trees grow very tall and very straight. Those features make them perfect material for baseball bats. They likewise make for a stately companion in the woods or town. When we bought our house five years ago, I felt it had been preordained when I realized our front yard had a fifty (seventy?) foot tall white ash growing in it.

The emerald ash borer invasion is a recent one. In just a few years Ann Arbor has been robbed of nearly all its living ash trees. In fact, today we vote on a millage proposal to fund removal of all the tall, dead, and potentially hazardous ash trees in town.

We had the ash in my yard cut down three years ago. It was infected with the ash borer and was lined up to fall on our neighbor's house if a strong enough wind came along. The tree was 89 years old, if I counted its rings correctly. Older than the houses in our neighborhood by thirty years. Three years younger than my grandfather (who died that same year).

Our neighborhood is populated with ash skeletons today. They rise a story or two above the old oaks and dwarf the more recent maples.

In my freezer is a hopeful collection of ash seeds that I collected a year ago. If the humidity and prolonged coolness doesn't damage them, I envision planting them years from now when the ash borer has eaten itself out of a habitat in this area. I want to see the colors once more. Return the tree to its home soil.

For now I find myself saying a lot of goodbyes. As I run, as I walk to work, as I take the kids to school. Goodbye young ash. Goodbye old fork-trunked ash. Goodbye Ashley Street ashes that first introduced the species to me.


Blogger T$ said...

Great post Doulicia. I am a tree lover too. One of the reasons we decided to buy our house was the 150 year old oak tree in our front yard. I remember driving up to the house and saying "My God, look at that awesome tree!"

According to my father-in-law (Papa) many of the ash trees in our area were planted to replace the elms that were destroyed by dutch elm disease. Ironic no? I too am sad to see the ashes go. So glad to hear that you are doing some preservation!

9:35 AM  
Blogger Sandy said...

My father still mourns the loss of the giant elms that used to arch over the streets for blocks and blocks (including in front of his house) in n. IL. And sadly, we lost our own battle with Dutch elm disease and our 60 ft. elm that shaded our whole backyard this summer, after 3 years (and many $$$) of fungicide & pruning.

In the summer, when there are leaves on the trees, you can track the spread of the emerald ash borer by noting the quantity of dead trees along I-94. There are a lot of dead trees past the "quarantine zone" sign already. I would guess it's only a year or two before it hits n. IL, and maybe 10 years before the whole midwest/northeast are denuded. :(

2:49 PM  

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