Ashes of Queens

It was the first day of my company’s contract with the New York City Parks Department to remove all the borough’s “EAB host” ash trees. Arthritic, messy, rough scaled, the trees on the streets of Queens had suffered the depredations of the Emerald Ash Borer and barely survived.

These insects enter a tree and do their damage from the top down. Eggs laid on the tree hatch, enter the bark and feed on the phloem and cambium, interfering with the tree’s ability to transport nutrients and water, overwintering in the outer sapwood or outer bark.

They make these crazy chutes and ladders as they make their way inside the tree, which you can see if you pull away the trunk.

The fear of the City was that a bruising storm might cause the trees to shatter, bringing down heavy limbs on the nearest baby carriage going by. Weakened, rotten at the core, they might fall over on you or me.

We will cut down over a thousand. This is a big deal project, over two years. My job on the site as a certified arborist is only to keep an eye and make sure things go right, although the crew is so great they don’t need any watching over.

There are other observers too, among them the R.E., Sam, from Arcadis, who spends his working hours inspecting planting and other sites city wide. He had some experience previously with ash as lumber, at a company in western New York that harvests trees 30-40 inches in diameter.

There are still ash trees unaffected by the EAB, outside of NYC, but the number is dwindling, and baseball players can no longer count on a pale, long-grained, nearly shatterproof bat.

Adam, my colleague, and I marked the trees slated for removal with red paint.

When the branches and trunks were being fed into the chipper, I took a walk down the block and saw a few of the things that make Queens so delightful.

A bird house.

A ghost bike, put there as a memorial for a cyclist who was killed on the spot. This is a very small bike. I hope the rider was not that small.

The back side of Aqueduct Race Track.

A live chicken, at first blending in with the leaves but with all her bustling about, trying for some reason to get through a chain link fence. Chicks inside?

 I checked back later, thinking I should have lofted the hen over to where she wanted to go, and she had vanished. Such are the mysteries of Queens.

Will there be new trees planted to replace the ones removed? People always want to know. Perhaps a pretty, manageable cherry tree. We always have to tell people, That is for the City to decide. We are just doing This.

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