Ashes to ashes: Eulogy for the emerald ash tree
Updated: August 1, 2012 4:38PM
Before we dropped him off, my son’s friend gestured upward.
“Look at all the trees dying,” he said. “It’s from the emerald ash borer.”
As I stared, the turn signal from the van’s dashboard seemed to click louder. I began counting. One, three, seven ... up to 15 affected trees, and we hadn’t even puttered up the street yet.
Along the sidewalks, 50-
year-old shade trees were consumed by a green insect and
its larvae. A contagion had stripped their leafy canopies.
According to one site, anywhere from 50 million to 100 million ash trees have perished across 15 states. In our neighborhood, red paint dots mark the trunks of trees to be destroyed, but the city is out of money and can’t chop them down.
The drought’s been bad enough. Now this?
My love of trees took root with my father’s landscape business. Between college semesters I worked with crews on homeowner projects. Shovel in my hand, mud on my clothes, workers and I stepped back as dad approached, driving his backhoe. The engine roared as he’d maneuver the scoop to dig a hole. Then, two of us would lower the tree into the ground. We’d shovel black dirt around its base while my sister trotted over with a hose, watering it generously.
All these years later, and it stays with me, the wet-earth smell and the shovel’s splintery handle abrading my palms. There was some real satisfaction in planting something. Growing something.
Trees provide shade and help combat the greenhouse effect. Studies show that trees in neighborhoods help reduce violence. Exposure to nature helps calm children.
Later, I tell my sons that I researched online. “There’s a wasp that might help combat the borer.”
My bug-hating youngest blinks. “I’d brave those wasps to protect those trees.”
Tree-hugger. I smile. Wonder where he gets it from?
Until this moment, I’ve been worried about the economy, my kids and whether our van can take another winter.
I glance around. What will our neighborhood look like without the ash trees? We’re so busy that we haven’t noticed. We will after they’re removed.
It’s like Joni Mitchell’s classic, “Big Yellow Taxi,” with the haunting lyrics.
“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”