If Trees Could Talk
Copyright Vladimir Kagan, July 22, 2015
Trees; those noble beasts that live within our midst and provide us with shade in the summer. It is said that temperatures under trees are 10% lower. Silent, except for the rustling of their leaves, the swoosh of swaying branches and the occasional frightening crack of a breaking limb. Their lifespan exceeds any other living thing. Their fruit feeds millions, their foliage purifies our air, their stems build our shelters, their limbs heat our homes and transformed into charcoal, they heat millions of cooking stoves. They are God’s gift to mankind!
Trees are born from a seed, just like we. They survive through life and can live over a 1,000 years - but they also die. Some are tall giants – others branch out into huge canopies. The oldest living tree specimen is the Methuselah Tree, a wizened specimen that has been dated as being 4,767 years old. It is a short and stunted dwarf that is living out its life at over 8,000 feet altitude in a bristlecone pine forest in California’s White Mountains.
Closer to home, our island of Nantucket still has nearly 300 living elms of all ages, from recently-planted to centenarians. Some well over 100 years old. These elms are perhaps the only survivors of the deadly Dutch Elm decease that had ravaged all others on the mainland. These glorious trees arch over our Main Street, back alleys and hidden lanes with fountains of cascading leaves and dappled light.
After the great fire of 1846 that burned most of downtown Nantucket, a crop of American Elms was planted along almost every street and at every corner. These beautiful trees have bourn witness to Nantucket’s evolving history. They were there when Nantucket’s young men went off to fight the South in the deadly Civil War. Too few came back. They witnessed the booming whale oil industry when young men went off in sailing ships, some never to return. And then the two World Wars decimated more of our young men. The trees survived in silent witness.
Some are towering giants overhanging our busy streets, their roots pushing up sidewalks, often detouring pedestrian passage. But Nantucketers tolerate such minor inconveniences. These gracious giants are frequently brutalized by cars and trucks and disfigured with scars by electric and telephone companies to funnel their wires.
Two beautiful Elm trees standing majestically around the corner from my house
Our narrow streets and ever-wider SUVs have raised havoc by tearing off bark and leaving irreparable wounds, but these sturdy trees survive the punishment and heal with gapping scars. The scars, sometimes ten-feet off the ground, bear testament to the laps of time.
Trees have the right-of-way - pedestrians must detour - we really don't mind.
Tunnels and jagged cuts made by the electric and telephone companies - still they survive
To the credit of Nantucket’s Department of Public Works, they have two full-time “tree doctors” to protect and care for these heroic survivors. They sometimes performing necessary surgery and under dire potential hazards, euthanizing them to protect other trees and the public. It is a sad moment when we loose one; the town mourns.
Two top photos courtesy of the Inquire & Mirror - Ray Sylvia photographer
Next April 29th, Arbor Day, lets all celebrate with a big Elm hug!
American Elm, Ulmus americana
Height: 80-100’ (up to 125’)
Diameter: 2-5’ (up to 10’) Leaves: 3-6” long and 1-3” wide