The White Ash

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The picture above is that of White Ash bark. Do you think of trees? If so, do you know what species are native to your climate zone? How about non native? I have a great interest in trees. I assume it stems (um, ha ha) from my love of nature in general. The White Ash tree is native to eastern North America. They are lovely trees. Tall, with a beautiful crown, and set ablaze by early October in a sea of rustling reds, poignant purple and awesome orange. They are also in trouble. The emerald ash borer, an insect non native to the United States, is currently working its way up the Appalachians. It has now made it as far north as western Massachusetts in the Berkshire Mountains.

This is a tragedy because they kill Ash Trees. A very large percentage of New England forests are Ash, and the decimation foreseen is akin to that of Dutch Elm Disease which killed off most Elm trees. The Elm is still the state tree of Massachusetts, but you would look hard to find one. They still survive with their very long lived extensive underground root system which will shoot up a new tree in the forest, and it will do well until about 5-7 years old. That is when the Dutch Elm Disease takes over. It causes the expanding bark to split, killing the tree. If you look at any picture from around 1900 of most any downtown of small towns and mid sized cities in the Northeastern U.S and New England you will see very large, stately trees lining the streets like old soldiers of all seasons.

Here is a very rare sight. This tree is still alive in New England as of today. It shows the massive stature of the Elm and the content that punctuates the mood of the picture.

'Herbie',_Yarmouth,_Maine

If this tree looks strange to you, then the decimation of a tree that was once one of the most common in this area has been successful. The White Ash will most likely face the same fate in the first half of this century. The numbers are staggering. The Elm tree die off is estimated at 500 million. A lot right? Yes. However, the die off of the Ash tree, whose range extends from Missouri to Georgia up to New England and Nova Scotia, is expected to be around 7 billion. They are also going the way of the Chestnut tree, which was decimated in the mid 1800s. You can still find very small ones in wooded areas, but they die off before maturity much like the Elm.

Outside the house where I grew up we had several White Ash trees. There is only one left now. In fact the streets were lined primarily with them after the Elm die off from the 1930s to the 1970s. Now unfortunately, invasive species are once again destroying our part of the world. One Ash tree in particular, one of about 70 years old at the time, stood tall outside my window on the 3rd floor of the house I was raised in. I loved that tree. On a summer night the sudden rustling of the leaves perhaps foretold of a rare nighttime thunderstorm. In the Autumn, it was a yearly masterpiece. In Winter, it stood tall as a guard…….I would sometimes sit by my window and just stare at it for an eternity. Usually in the evening.

By 2001 the tree was dying. My father was to cut it down and I knew I had to say goodbye. I was glad I was going back late that summer to college. I would be away in its absence during Autumn. An absence which felt quite wrong.

One cool summer night I rested against the wooden window sill. I started to dream…….

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And then I asked the tall soldier planted firmly and born of the deeds by mine before….how have the years that have passed you treated you?

He answered… “Every day was a jewel even if not able to view the bluest sky or whitest cloud. Never did a year pass where the four strangers failed to exchange my coat for the next one. I have stood and rested, my many arms reaching towards heavens. I sang a nightly song to every star no matter how close or how distant. The clouds would sometime reach all the way to my branches, to embrace me and let me know I was seen. I was alive. Even in the bitter dormancy of December when my stature swayed in strong northerly winds, I held fast and strong…..I also knew that you saw me. You noticed. You watched. As you are now. I met others because of you. Yes, long after I had misplaced my green coat, it did not matter. I knew I would be here again to receive it. I have stood the test of time as others have fallen and others begin to grow.”

I rested against the sill. A gentle easterly whisper of a breeze came through the leaves, rustling them, as the cool air met my face. I heard a faint voice in the serine summer night under a bright moon….

“Do you still want to cut me down?”

 

Thank you for reading.

Cheers,

Jason

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