Oh, spring! And the song of the chainsaw is heard again all over the country! And, again, I must at least try to get you to stop mutilating trees and bushes.
Last Friday was the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day, which was started a century and a half ago in Nebraska to give the sunny state some much-desired shade. The goal seems to have reversed on the way here, as we make Kingsport – once rainforest, then tree town – look like Nebraska. You don’t need your red shoes, Dorothy, stay here while we turn this place into Kansas.
Of course, the whole symphony of small engines is not made up of saws. There are leaf blowers, weed killers, hedge trimmers, shoe shiners, foot trimmers, a hellish combustion engine for every purpose within the reach of the human mind’s imagination. A large landscaping company went all-electric because electrical equipment is more efficient with less maintenance. Don’t expect this trend to spread to the domestic market. It’s for the sound, baby! I could be inside playing “Call of Duty” but I love the sound! Sound is the brother of motorcycles, unmuffled cars, loud music, loud voices, a gun on my hip and my big red truck. No one will use electric garden equipment except…girls.
But I digress. In the United States, about 17.4 million tons of air pollutants are absorbed by trees every year, preventing 670,000 cases of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Over its lifetime, a tree can capture all the carbon produced on your Albuquerque road trip. It takes another tree of his life to handle your return journey, so you see we need a lot of trees or less road journeys. Or a transport that does not produce as much carbon dioxide.
A tree can lower the temperature in its shade by 20 degrees. Lots of trees can cool the area to 9 degrees. Years ago, when I lamented that cutting down all the trees on the University of South Alabama campus would increase the air conditioning bill, a friend of mine in the coffee coven before breakfast said that the trees didn’t matter, I know, because I’m an engineer. I refrained from saying that I knew otherwise because I am a biologist. The fact that his equations do not take into account the effects of vegetation on ambient temperature does not make these effects non-existent. The only environmental testing equipment needed to know it’s cooler under the trees than in the fields is your skin.
Since trees are so necessary to humans, it is with sadness that I can say that we are home when we have been absent by the appearance of cut trees, some struggling to stay alive with clusters of unnatural leaves at amputation site, mostly dead. Wake up and put on your shoes, we are back in the land of tortured trees.
Some tree species can survive such mutilation, but most cannot, as evidenced by their desecrated corpses lining the roads. There’s a good example on the east side of Interstate 26 just south of Johnson City, its truncated hitch resembling a sign for Entering Halloween Country. If you want a bushy tree, go ahead and cut down your big tree and get something bushy, like a Bradford pear. If it’s too high below the power line, go ahead and cut it down and get something small, like a dogwood tree. If it’s just that you’re afraid of the big, tall tree, pull yourself together.
I had a neighbor who mutilated her trees because a guy told her it would keep them from falling in our sandy soil. What sandy soil? If someone comes to your door and tells you that it will improve the health of your tree by disfiguring it by cutting the branches halfway, refuse. The translation is that I have a chainsaw and I need money for beer. If you think your tree needs pruning, please ask a professional arborist. And not the Here Hold My Beer And Watch This Tree Mangling Company.
Similar to tree torture, but much more common, this is what Steve Bender of Southern Living calls pancake killing. It involves cutting the handsome, muscular stems of the crape myrtle into equal-height witches’ broomsticks, providing unnatural ugliness for all seasons – winter, summer, and in between.
Don’t think you’ve rejuvenated something when you’ve forced a growth spurt trying to recover from a life-threatening injury. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s hard to see how beautiful anyone finds mutilated trees and mangled shrubs.
Maybe all these things I mentioned today are small personal expressions of man’s dominance over nature. The adaptive alternative, humans living in the wild, has also been around for a long time. You can find satisfaction in creating as well as destroying. You may have noticed: climate change, pollution, overpopulation, wildfires and killer storms are already here, folks. You men above nature are going to get us all killed.