There’s Really Isn’t Much As Lovely As a Tree

The green curtain, Ferndale
– The green curtain, Ferndale

The prognosis was in. It wasn’t good. General health decline and evidence of weakening structure. There’s nothing anyone can do. The third alder’s comin’ down.

All I can say is, dammit, there goes the forest

Well, our forest, the little one we’ve got wrapped around our yard in Ferndale, CA, that mélange of trees, bushes, ferns, bamboo, and more stinging nettle than anyone should have to wrangle. It’s a hodge-podge I’ve grown to love and I’m not pleased about its seemingly inexorable thinning.

It started a while ago. A towering alder that bordered our back fence (the one you see in the background of the photo above) suddenly crashed down, rupturing the green curtain that comprised our view. My husband reminded me that we’d been told from the get-go that this particular tree was not long for life and my tree-grief should be modified accordingly.

So I moved on; planted a couple of willows; wrapped potato vines around the split-rail; put in another round of drought-resistant whatevers in the front patch, and hoped for the best. The potato vines didn’t make it, but I’m encouraged that the willows are still straggling along (though considering my ideal is the willows of Central Park, odds are good I’m being a bit delusional!).

– Willows of Central Park
– Willows of Central Park

Then, like a thunderbolt from Artemis, Dionysus, or whichever tree deity handles alders, the second one tumbled not long after the first, and this one had not come with a terminal diagnosis. No telltale pockmarks, no tilting weaknesses; its leaves seemed plentiful; there was nothing to portend its cruel and unceremonious demise. Now, instead of two auspicious alders bookmarking our backyard, there are wide open spaces and lots more sky.

I love sky. I love wide open spaces. I loved my trees more.

What is it with alders? Their life expectancy is 60-100 years, so I can only assume ours were in the winter of their lives. Old. Clearly not as old as the grand conifers that abound, but old enough for both to die within a relatively short period of time. Maybe they’re like swans, mating for life, and it was a soul mate thing.

I checked an article by David D. Mortimer of the Simi Valley Acorn titled, Ask the Arborist—Death of the Alders, and here’s what he had to say:

“Why are so many alders dying? Could it be bugs? Some nefarious disease? Global warming? Hardly. How about this: They are just being alder trees, doing what alder trees do. That is pretty much the story. Alder trees have a comparatively short lifespan, especially when they’re not in their native habitat. They’re definitely not a drought-tolerant tree.”

Maybe it is the drought. Or maybe they were just old (and God knows I have respect for that state of being!).

– Big Yosemite Tree
– Big Yosemite Tree

I’ll admit: I’m a bit of a tree-hugger. I wept openly decades ago (scaring my then-toddler son) when a misguided gardener hacked the life out of a majestic conifer outside our picture window. I practically caused internecine crisis years back when I stomped off a friend’s property after they described the house that’d be going up after the old-growth cedar came down… the one I’d just been hugging (yes, literally hugging). So it’s a thing with me, that’s seems clear.

Obviously in forested territory like Humboldt County tree-love has to find balance with the essential and job-providing lumber industry. And let’s face it, who doesn’t love a wood house, gorgeous hardwood floors, the warmth of beams and rugged fence work. Balance is the key, and I figure as long as everyone involved is a responsible steward—thinning, replanting, selective harvesting in lieu of full scale annihilation—one can hardly raise a ruckus. But given the essential role trees play in the holistic health of our planet—balancing carbon dioxide, providing habitat, preventing erosion, and so on—protective and proactive attitudes and actions are always a wise investment.

In fact, I recently stumbled on a story about an ex-NASA engineer who plans to use drones to plant one billion trees a year. Really.

Drones will fly two or three meters above the ground and fire out pods containing pre-germinated seeds that are covered in a nutritious hydrogel. The company’s CEO, who might be called ‘Johnny Apple Drone’, thinks it should be possible to plant up to 36,000 trees a day, and at around 15% of the cost of traditional methods. And they aren’t just looking to create plantations of trees, but full ecosystems.

“Together with tree seeds, we hope to seed in other species including micro-organisms and fungi to improve the soil quality and ensure long-term sustainability of our efforts.”

I’d say that’s not only dedication, but a far better use of drones than blowing up things!

All this matters to me because, on a global scale, I want to see the integral value of all trees honored and protected worldwide. On a local scale, I’m mourning the loss of that third alder on our property. (See, my scope is both macro and micro!) Though, actually, it’s not on our property; it’s on city property, a stately specimen that not only contributes to our personal forest, but is precariously perched so that if/when it goes, its sheer size will bring the fall trajectory not only onto our property, but our roof. Not good, clearly.

We’re told the tree may have some time left, so it’s possible just topping it will deliver us from danger and give us all a few more years. I hope so. I want the tree around a bit longer. I also want my roof.

– Peg's backyard
– Peg’s backyard

But I have discovered a brilliant assuagement for tree loss, particularly those that have fallen worldwide for one reason or another. There’s a site called, where contributing just $10 “keeps one tonne of CO2 from entering the atmosphere by supporting local and indigenous communities protecting forest in developing countries.” That’s right; you get to pick your forest. I love the idea. So far I’ve bought three tonnes and I plan to buy more. If you love trees, or you just want to take part in helping the planet, you don’t have to be a tree-hugger; you just have to buy a tonne. Or two or three. I urge you to visit the site and learn more about it; it’s a very innovative business model. And it’s saving trees.

So as I mourn the imminent thinning of my forest, I’ll take solace in managing my metric tonnes and getting out there to see what else can be salvaged in the yard. The magnolia is looking good and it’s certainly time for those willows to start flourishing…

Adapted from article originally published @ The Ferndale Enterprise on May 7, 2015.

Peg’s Tree, Willows of Central Park, Big Yosemite Tree, & The Green Curtain photos by LDW

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