July 19, 2006

OT: Requiem For An Elm [9:29 pm]

When Karen and I moved into our current home a few years ago, we were surprised to learn that the stupendous tree that essentially owns the backyard of our row house is an elm tree. It is estimated that it was probably planted when the house was built in 1861.

Given the prevalence of Dutch elm disease in the Northeast, I really would not have expected that there were any elms of this size in the city and we looked upon the care of this tree as an important responsibility. The tree surgeon who came to take care of the tree this fall indicated that there are probably about 60 trees still in Cambridge (mostly at Harvard), and that this one is probably among the oldest.

Well, I learned today that our tree is now infected — “flagging” is the term used in the links above to describe the state of the tree, indicating that the tree canopy is infected and dying. And the tree surgeon says that, given the heat and the wetness of this summer in New England, we can probably expect that the tree will be dead within 4 months.

Even though the surgeon waited until November to treat the tree last year, I can’t help wondering if we wouldn’t have been better off leaving the tree alone. Care of a tree like this can only take place when it’s dormant; otherwise, the sap of the cut tree attracts the beetles that are the primary vector for the disease. Even though this fall was colder than normal, the winter overall was noticeably warmer than other years, with a really stunning warm spell in January that led to some trees budding really early.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, it’s only a tree, I know. But it’s still something awful to be so helpless in the face of what the experts seem to feel is an inevitable outcome. While it’s always possible that the tree might weather this infection, the fact that my untrained eye got me worried enough to bring in an expert suggests that it’s not doing very well.

Intimations of our mortality, despite what Ray Kurzweil expects….

(MIT’s Tech Talk on this year’s loss of an old elm at on Killian Court)

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