Back Home Again: Trees of Life

This past spring, two large trees in our side yard breathed their last, like an old couple who die within minutes of one another, unable to imagine life without the other. I phoned Roy Wolfe, our town’s preeminent tree man, who added our trees to his summer work list. But before he could cut them down, my neighbor Bill Eddy, our town’s preeminent expert on all things Danville, pointed out that our trees were in the easement and therefore the town’s responsibility to remove. I drove to the town garage and spoke with the superintendent of Public Works, who sent a crew the next day to cut them down.
The superintendent told me that for every tree the town removed, two new trees must be planted. So I suggested the four new trees be placed in our side yard where the old trees had been. However, it turned out the new trees must be planted on town property, so there went my scheme, which was to see four oak trees planted in my side yard at no expense to me. Now that I’m footing the bill, I’ll dig up four oak trees in the woods at our Orange County farm and replant them in our Hendricks County yard.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve been relocating the trees from our woods to our farmhouse yard a tree at a time, two or three each autumn—oaks, beeches, maples, and dogwoods. The rule of thumb when transplanting a tree is patience, following a pattern my father called “sleep, creep, and leap.” The first year, you’ll think the tree’s a goner. The second year, hints of new life emerge, until the third glorious year when the tree takes off, sprouting new limbs and leaves. Sleep, creep, and leap. The average nursery tree is five to 10 years old when purchased, but I pull mine out of the woods at two or three years of age, when the trunks are pencil thin. The root ball is small, so the transplant is almost always successful—if I don’t accidentally mow them down in a distracted moment.
I’ve been doing this long enough to see scraggly sticks become robust trees. And although I had little to do with their growth, I take full credit, pointing out the trees to our visitors, naming the variety and year they were transplanted. Clearly, God or Mother Nature has done the lion’s share of the work, but you’d never know it for how I hasten to claim responsibility.
My favorite tree is the white oak due to its longevity, canopy, and resistance to oak wilt. I’ve planted three white oaks in our farmhouse yard and suspect each one will last several hundred years now that the risk of being mowed down has passed. If I were running for president, I’d promise a white oak on every lawn. And if I won the election, I’d order every Bradford pear to be cut down. A smelly, poorly structured, and invasive tree native to China and Korea, the Bradford pear was brought to our shores in 1908 to breed resistance to the fire blight fungus then ravaging America’s pear crop. Fortunately, Bradford pears can be burned down with flame throwers, chopped into little pieces, poisoned, crushed by bulldozers, or yanked out by the roots with a backhoe, all of which are appropriate solutions to this despicable cultivar. As long as I was ridding America of contemptible trees, I’d also chop down cottonwoods (messy and prone to rot), willow trees (water hogs), and mulberry trees (insect magnets).
Now that I think about it, what America needs are plastic trees, which would not only endure drought and flood but would also remain green the year round. Perpetually green, they’d never have to have their fallen leaves raked nor be sprayed for bugs or blight. With electric cars on the rise, we’d no doubt be saving billions of barrels of oil each year, which could be turned into plastic to make even more trees. Every 10 years or so, we’d recycle the old plastic trees and make new ones. The circle of life!
There’s a man in my town who has decorated his yard with two plastic palm trees. Everyone laughs at him and says they look tacky, except for me. To me, it’s the wave of the future. And when his plastic palm trees produce plastic palm tree seeds, I’m going to get some, plant them in my yard, and grow my own plastic palm trees to replace the trees the town cut down.