Tuesday, December 4, 2012

From Tolkien's Trees to Post Sandy Tree Replanting Plans - We Need Our Trees. Stop the Massacre

In the ongoing nightmare of Superstorm Sandy that we can’t yet wake up from in our coastal areas, trees are much on my mind. 
I see the massacre of our area’s trees everywhere around us in the Garden State.
Our home there near Sandy Hook – the name coincidence is not lost on me either and just reinforces the lingering Sandy imprimatur – is more or less home base too for my Duchess Designs fine gardening and landscape design work.

I have been meaning to write about the tree destruction as a follow up to my last post but have been consumed with cleaning garden clients’ gardens of Sandy and her salty spread.
We have planted spring bulbs too, a sure of hopefulness.  That’s another story.

I Tweeted about the wanton destruction of the trees, especially after talking to my arborist, Mike Hufnagel, Hufnagel Tree Service (www.hufnageltree.com) who told me of the preemptive slaughter of too many trees.
I was stunned.

Mike also says, “Today’s acorn is tomorrow’s mighty oak.  I always tell my customers that Oak is the most desirable tree to have on your property.  Even if a superstorm can make them uproot and split.” 
Quite philosophically, he continues, “We have to remember we live in an ancient forest. It is only that we choose to build our dwellings and communities here! The Trees were here first.”
On November 27 he wrote to me with no small amount of anger and sadness, “I am witnessing a massacre of the rest of the untouched storm-damaged large trees being removed due to Fear!! Everyone is cutting trees due to fear.
Just look at all the tree companies driven by $$$$.  Instead of educating the community on Tree failure and maintenance.”
Mike adds, “We are living in the age of Extinction of our mature forest trees!!! So sad!!”  


I researched cultures that killed their trees – from Haiti to Greenland to Africa.
It never ended well for those places and, in fact, the “civilizations” either died out or changed their climate.  Of course in those situations, trees were ostensibly cut for more or less valid purposes: building materials and grazing.
Our wholesale massacres are happening out of fear and ignorance  - which is so much more shameful. 

On the other hand, there is the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Muta Maathai, a Kenyan who, according to the official site of the Nobel Prize, was awarded the honor because she “introduced the idea of planting trees with the people in 1976 and continued to develop it into a broad-based, grassroots organization whose main focus is the planting of trees with women groups in order to conserve the environment and improve their quality of life. However, through the Green Belt Movement she has assisted women in planting more than 20 million trees on their farms and on schools and church compounds.”

Tolkien and Trees: Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit Teach us about the magic of Trees
HobbitTree: photo courtesy neobeatificvision.wordpress.com

I have had a long love affair with J.R.R Tolkien’s respect for trees.  I have written about how the author imbued his trees with xx and empowers the trees.  They are the heroes of the stories. 
In an enchanting way, Tolkien inspires us to embrace trees for their life force and inspiration.
In order to more accurately describe how Tolkien’s Trees resonate, I researched the web and discovered Claudia Riiff Finseth’s www.theonering.net
Riiff captivated me with this intro: “Anyone who has walked in a forest knows there is no better place for adventure. Snow White knew it, and so did Hansel and Gretel. Trees and forests, with all their branches and paths, hollows and hiding places are perfect for suspense, surprise, enchantment and danger.”
“To speak of J.R.R. Tolkien and trees in one breath is to speak of a life-long love affair. From the time he was a boy and played among the trees in the countryside at Sarehole in Warwickshire at the turn of the century until his death at Bournmouth in 1973, Tolkien was, as Galadriel says of Sam the hobbit, a “lover of trees.” Humphrey Carpenter in his biography (1977, p.24) says of Tolkien,
“. . .And though he liked drawing trees, he liked most of all to be with trees.
He would climb them, lean against them, even talk to them. It saddened him to discover that not everyone shared his feelings towards them. One incident in particular remained in his memory: ‘There was a willow hanging over the mill-pool and I learned to climb it. . .One day they cut it down. They didn’t do anything with it; the log just lay there. I never forgot that.’”
As a lover of trees and a man who abhorred the needless destruction of them, Tolkien the writer often defined his characters as good or evil in part by their feelings about trees. Many of the evil peoples in his stories are tree-destroyers. The orcs heedlessly and mindlessly hew away at the living trees of Fangorn; Saruman destroys the beauty of the Shire by erecting buildings from its trees; and Sauron’s evil presence turns Greenwood the Great to the black and decaying boughs of Mirkwood and makes Mordor so sterile that a tree cannot grow there.
Conversely, among the good peoples of Tolkien’s world are many tree-lovers; one could almost say it is one of the hallmarks of Tolkien’s good people. Galadriel, Legolas and the whole host of Elves show a deep regard for trees, almost as brethren; the Ents and Huorns tend and guard their forests as shepherds protect their sheep; Samwise, the hobbit-gardener, cherishes the soil of Galadriel’s garden, using it to restore his own devastated Shire; Aragorn, rightful King of Gondor, takes as his banner symbol the White Tree; and Niggle desires nothing more before he dies than to finish his painting of a tree, Tolkien’s metaphor for one’s life work, for his own writing.
Hobbit Tree Tunnel, photo courtesy of BluePueblo, Tumblr
Tolkien’s life was filled from boyhood with the rich symbolism of the great trees of literature. The stories that “awakened desire” in him as a child included “above all, forests.”  

Trees in Today’s News

The Tree issue continues to dominate the news and I’m sure will be a topic of this evening’s MetroHort group meeting and holiday pot luck holiday event.

Today’s New York Times features a front page Tree story: “Spate of Harsh Weather in New England Shifts Sentiments on Trees.”

The report highlights this new, scary approach to trees, writing, “People are looking at trees near their home in a different manner….It’s no longer, ‘This is a nice shade tree.’  It’s ‘This tree could fall on my house.’”   
“People were envisioning having entire trees crashing down on their houses and there was a lot of panic,” said Phillip Cambo, president of Northern Tree Service, a tree-removal company that serves much of New England”

Further, the story does acknowledge the gift that trees are: Trees add character and beauty to a property, of course, but they also benefit the environment, trapping carbon dioxide, one of the major contributing greenhouse gases, and releasing oxygen. And they help protect against erosion and maintain the balance of the ecosystem.
Several storm-battered towns across New England have undertaken extensive replanting programs — though many programs encourage planting smaller trees, like fruit trees and dogwoods, rather than the pines and maples that, when mature, can cause the most damage.
Many New England towns authorize local tree wardens to determine the health of shade trees and ban their removal unless they pose a hazard.”  The New York Times "Once Leafy & Friendly, Now Menacing"
I argue that we should replant the big trees. 
We need their shade, their vital lung work for us – and for the myriad other functions they provide to so many of Mother Nature’s denizens.

And we also need another moniker for those who work in towns on behalf of trees.  A “Tree Warden” does not sound good or friendly despite its meaning of keeper and custodian.  Perhaps it’s the connection to a prison that conjures up a less than kindly protector status.

How about Tree Keeper or Tree Champion (America loves competition and winners…) Or how about the good ol’ Tree Hugger?

I got back to town (Manhattan) after weeks of post Sandy garden clean up and maintenance only to find the row of trees on Wall Street have been uprooted and cut down!  Deliberate?  

More Tree Talk
Below is a copy of an article written by Tyler Silvestro for the American Society of Landscape Architect’s Dirt publication.  The article covers a lecture by James Urban.  I received the copy as part of my membership conversation with fellow Landscape Design Alumni Group. 
We enjoy and benefit from professional knowledge, support & tips from experience, and shared interests.

You Can’t Fool Mother Nature but You Can Understand Her

04/18/2012 by asla dirt

James Urban, FASLA, noted soil and tree expert, recently gave his talk, “You Cannot Fool Mother Nature but You Can Understand Her,” at the Arsenal in New York City. Urban is a prolific writer and lecturer on the subject of tree planting and the conditions needed to improve tree performance in urban environments.

Urban focused his talk on eight simple ideas, all basic steps to yield more productive growth in urban trees. The ideas were driven home by a slideshow containing images from his recent award-winning planting guide and bookshelf mainstay, “Up By Roots: Healthy Soils and Trees in the Built Environment.”

To Urban, planting trees is all about the science. Take a walk down your street and notice the adolescent trees stuffed into the recently curb-cut sidewalk. According to Urban, that is our fatal mistake. We try all the time [to fool nature] but we never win.
The space below the ground is competing with other urban systems: storm water structures, utilities, urban compaction systems. These obstacles severely hinder the performance of those adolescent trees, many of which were not even properly selected in the first place. Urban shared his understanding of this paradigm: Once we have a hypothesis, we tend to give extra weight to any information that supports that hypothesis. To Urban, this kind of thinking leads to many street trees being planted incorrectly.

Over the past thirty years, Urban has been instrumental in the development of both structural soils and structural cells for use under sidewalk pavement. However, his message has remained and his eight guiding principles to planting trees have as well:

1. Trees need dirt!
2. Plant trees that are native to their urban ecosystem.
3. Can you resolve the conflict between the politics of trees and the planting of trees?
4. There is no free lunch.
5. Get just one tree right.
6. More soil volume please.
7. Harvest storm water.
8. Improve the nursery stock.

1. Trees need dirt!
According to Urban, New York is actually a relatively easy place to grow trees. To become a functional, mature tree in an urban environment, a tree needs between 800 and 1,200 cubic feet of good-quality loam soil. Urban believes that New York City has the space but not the soil.

2. Plant trees that are native to their urban ecosystem.
To further understand this concept the audience was pushed to buy Peter Del Tredici’s, Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast: A Field Guide. No longer are we harking back to the Manhattan planting plan for advice on what to plant on Queens Boulevard. Urban, the consummate pioneer of the urban environment tried to incite the crowd. Lets get into it and start figuring it out! Urban also warned us that in ten years or less we will all be calling nurseries to purchase Ailanthus.

3. Can you resolve the conflict between the politics of trees and the planting of trees?
Urban took this opportunity to speak of the role of the arborist. Currently, certification is relatively easy to obtain. However, as the profession of arborist progresses it needs serious restrictions. Making certification more difficult to acquire would promote the profession, putting them on the political map. Arborists could then better join broader political discussions and highlight the importance of trees.

4. There is no free lunch.
Here Urban stressed the idea of compost. His example that two tons of raw wood only produces one ton of compost is telling in that he believes there is room to explore this area. He further explains this idea by bashing the hot item right now, Bio-Char. After describing Bio-Char as really bad, he lightened the assault by clarifying that it is only good for small amounts of soil. I wonder if this simple idea was an idea at all, or an excuse to diminish the popularity of the charcoal-based soil amendment.

5. Get just one tree right.
In a checklist for tree design, one requirement is to understand the root area index (RAI), the calculation determining the correlation between the root and the surface area. To explain this, Urban used an image of a wine glass standing on a dinner plate. The dinner plate, representing the soil volume and the wine glass base, the trunk flare, are basic visuals of how simple a successful planting can be.

 6. More soil please.

Again Urban stressed the importance of understanding soils and the surroundings. Soil can be understood as the community of vegetated and urban systems surrounding the planting site. Urban explained the efficiency of his structural cells compared to that of constructed soils (Cu soils). One attendee, an expert and supplier of Cu soils, vehemently disagreed. He argued that the structural rock matrix that makes up the load bearing component of Cu soils do not inversely affect the performance of tree roots as Urban suggested. Not wanting to get into a fight over the success of his inventions, Urban explained, “I’m almost done with the Cu slide - actually, I’ve been done with the Cu slide since 2003.”

7. Harvest storm water.
When designing systems its important to allow nature to guide us in protecting our natural systems from floatables, hydrocarbons, chemical pollutants, and runoff toxins. In the green infrastructure overhaul of New York City, large trees will play an important role in the solution and have the ability to store and process massive amounts of storm water both in their roots and leaves.

8. Improve nursery stock.

Nursery stock, in the age of the New York City’s Million Trees Project, has become a hot topic. Tree growth can be determined before a tree is even planted if a basic understanding of the stock is obtained. There are many issues concerning healthy plant growth at nurseries. Proper limbing, pruning, watering, drainage, sunlight, soil volume, and basic organization are all things to consider when visiting a nursery for healthy plants. However, the number one issue is container plants. We need to stop buying container trees. It’s an unfixable problem! The girdling of roots has no remedy and their trees have no chance of reaching their potential.

Much of what James Urban discussed in his lecture seems to touch on the ideas of publicity. Yes, the science of tree planting is essential to success but so are politics. Urban reiterated this idea by empowering key figures in the crowd. The Parks Department, the City of New York, and New York Restoration Project need to put pressure on nurseries! Its Urban's hope that New York City will become the benchmark for intelligent street tree planting.

This guest post is by Tyler Silvestro, a master’s degree candidate at the City College of New York (CUNY), and writer for The Architects Newspaper.

I especially appreciate the advice for trees' role in storm water harvest.  

Our communities – urban or suburban demand we care for our trees. 
Please do not allow ignorance or fear to allow large-scale murder and massacre of our trees.
Their removal is our loss.  The repercussions are long term and far reaching.
There is no “do-over.”

Central Park, NYC Tree Art Two Days before Sandy Storm