Friday, November 11, 2011

The Legacy of a Pin Oak

We had to take down a pin oak recently, and tried to make the best of it. Primarily, the tree had squashed a key drainage pipe running beneath it, causing runoff to flow into our neighbor's yard. No other routes for the drainage proved feasible.

Despite that reason, which was enough to get a removal permit from the borough, there was hesitation. The tree helps shade the driveway and house in the summer, and oaks provide food for an extraordinary diversity of insects, including the inchworms that fuel the migration of warblers north in the spring.

But the oak, too, was each year casting more shade on the neighbor's vegetable garden and our own. In our yard as in others, a steadfast love of trees is increasingly having to share space with an interest in the local food movement, and the allure of solar energy as prices continue to fall. All three compete for the allegiance of arbiters of sunshine, whether it be a homeowner or the local shade tree commission.

After many months of hemming and hawing, and recurrent floods in the driveway, we finally had it taken down. What, then, is the legacy of this fine tree, done in not by wind, or the bacterial leaf scorch that is taking so many red and pin oaks, but for having grown in the wrong place? Respect can be paid by making the most of its 40 years worth of bottled sunshine.

The carbon it captured from the air and injected underground via its roots will remain there for many years, slowly shifting from wood to humus, a small but measurable service to slowing climate change.

The straight trunk looked to hold some fine lumber, but arborists told us the wood is not as commercially useful as red oak.

We ended up with firewood, which is conveniently packaged sunshine to drive a wood stove's metabolism in much the same way a pecan is nicely packaged to feed our own. Chippers these days can gobble up very large branches, even trunks of smaller trees, so I had to lobby to save for firewood some of the branches that are now routinely chipped up.
They left the chips for mulch, the stored solar energy of which quickly became a snack for microorganisms ready to assist the wood's return to soil (see related post).

As the tree's legacy lives on, the sunny void is quickly getting populated by dreams of varying degrees of practicality--of fruit trees, blueberries, and an arbor for grapes and squash to shade the driveway. And a young red oak, better placed, looks poised to claim its share of the sky's riches.

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