How do you differentiate between ailing and healing, suffering and facing down adversity? Yesterday I was called in to evaluate the tree of a friend’s neighbor. It was a remarkable specimen.
A mammoth Norway Maple probably 70 feet tall and more than 75 years old, it had grown into the wall behind it and onto the bulging bedrock below it like a barnacle. It looked as if its roots had nothing but rock as a base, no soil. Of course trees the world over grow in stone. Georgia’s Stone Mountain is home to trees for which life would seem improbable.
But this maple had had some carpenter ants around its base, said the neighbor, a genial man who had just moved in with his young family. There was a hand-sized hole that felt damp on the inside. And above our heads, high up the trunk, bulged a just-birthed cream-colored fungus that he felt was suspicious.
To me the tree looked as solid as a brick. It had stood for 75 years, after all. This nice young man wanted me to tell him to take it down, afraid it was going to topple off its rock pedestal onto his house.
What about the wet hole, the fungi? They can indicate biotic problems. The hole can be an entrance for wood-rotting organisms, and sometimes appears watersoaked and has a bad odor ( I didn’t smell it.) The fungi isn’t a sign of peak health either.
Compartmentalization, I told him. Trees have an amazing capacity to heal themselves. They limit the spread of discoloration and decay by erecting walls beneath and above and on either side of the stressor. This is why you see so many otherwise healthy trees with holes in them – they suffered a wound in the past but patched themselves up. Trees are smart.
Something I could aspire to. When I’m jangled, my walls don’t necessarily partition off the wound and the disturbance of mind can spread unchecked.
Today, another tree wound, this one in autumn-mad Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
The Sugar Maple stood in its cramped tree pit, surrounded by concrete pourers, gnarly roots braided around its base.
The talk began, on the part of watchful neighbors and some of the crew. This swarthy maple had a fine coating of thick green lichen.
It looked ancient, probably half a century or more of thrusting those gangly branches into the air. But, but… in one of the branches was a sizable hole. Not only one hole, but two connecting ones on either side of the limb so that you could actually see through it if you stood on your tiptoes.
Was it a victim of disease? Would the branch drop and pulverize a car? “This year, for sure,” one old timer said. Or was it a wounded soldier that given some patience would persevere? Could the maple compartmentalize its drastic (but poetic, I thought) wound? How do you predict what will happen? You can’t take down all the trees.
In the city or the suburbs – “the sticks” as my friend’s neighbor called his new environs – when will a wound get better? I wish I could say for sure. Tree, arborist, heal thyself.