Farmer’s Calendar for September 2017

December 2, 2016

Taking Down the Trees, Taking Back the Milky Way

The arborist came today, accompanied by five sturdy young men, an enormous crane, and a chipper. They’ve been charged with taking down four very large trees that were threatening the house.

This threat did not occur overnight, of course. The land under and around the house was cleared almost 40 years ago. At the time, none of these very large trees hung over the roof. It was clearing all the trees around them that set off a growth spurt.

Under a magnifying glass, the stump of one of the fallen trees, a 60-foot-tall red oak, revealed some 80 growth rings. The first 40 or so were narrow—just a millimeter or two in width. Crowded by other trees, it got little sun. But the lens showed that in ensuing years, after space was cleared for the house, the rings expanded rapidly. Ring number 41 was half a centimeter, and the outermost ring was almost 4 centimeters wide. When that tree was no longer competing with others, it grew much faster.

That oak’s seedling set its roots soon after the Great Hurricane of 1938 roared up the Connecticut River Valley, scything down millions of trees. But it left open space for millions more. Now that the big oak is gone, the Milky Way is visible above the house for the first time in decades.

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