In the Trees
For someone with acrophobia, I spent an awful lot of time as a child a story or more off the ground in trees. We had a treehouse for a few years that was worth the climb up the rope ladder. I spent uncounted hours reading in weeping willows, having juggled a book and usually an apple in my climb. I’d ignore the discomforts of my irregular perch for the privilege of reading uninterrupted, just me and the tree. No one ever looked up.
That wasn’t my first close association with willows, either. When I was two, we moved into a real house, and one of the first things we did was plant a willow in the front yard. I named her Alice. She came down just a few years ago, having lived a good, long life for such a weedy type of tree.
I’ve always lived among trees and gone to the woods for quiet, but it took a change of scenery to discover just how much trees mean to me. I was in my early twenties when I went to Arizona with my mother to visit my grandparents. I chalked the tension up to too much family in too small a space and tried to ignore it as it built over a couple of days.
My mother and I took a side trip north to Flagstaff, to spend a few days seeing the sights in and around the Navajo Nation and, of course, the Grand Canyon. (It’s, um, big. Dangerously icy in February too. The ravens, however, are charming and like peanuts more than I do.) As we drove north out of Phoenix, I wasn’t really looking forward to more time in constant proximity to family.
Then we started to climb out of the desert and hit an elevation where there were trees. Stubby little piñon pines, but still the first trees I’d seen in days. And I relaxed. Turns out that trees are pretty important to me.
So it makes me sad, and nervous, and grumpy to watch the parade of threats against our local trees over the last several years. Cuts in city budgets have meant less consistent enthusiasm for removing elms infected with Dutch Elm Disease at the first sign of infection, which has allowed the disease to spread more quickly in Minneapolis (10,000 trees lost in 2004, just in the city). Droughts have made our pine forests susceptible to winter damage and pine bark beetles. The emerald ash borer is now on the scene in the state.
But the threat that has me the most disturbed is twofold and not limited to a single type of tree. They’ll attack most hardwoods. I’m talking about gypsy moths and forest tent caterpillars. The two creatures are similar, with masses of caterpillars building webbed homes in trees and stripping them bare. The differences are mostly in the direction the threat is coming from and whether there is a local predator that might keep the population down.
Turns out that there isn’t anything local that will effectively battle the gypsy moths. If we don’t do it ourselves, nothing else is going to take care of it. We’ll start to look like Wisconsin did on the road trip we took across it in May, trees bare of any green, filled only with white, webby masses crawling with dark little bodies.
Of course, we are fighting all these threats to our trees. Individual cities, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture, all are facing off against at least one pest. However, all these entities are facing reduced funding from Governor Pawlenty’s unallotment, on top of other budget cuts.
When the choice comes down, as it must, on what to fund, where do you think the trees will fall? Behind the needy citizens and the crumbling streets for the cities. Behind the sport programs that pay part of their own way for the DNR. Behind agribusiness for the MDA. All reasonable choices, but all choices with consequences to the trees.
This is what our tax policies have brought. While we’ve been sitting still, these pests have been on the move. So when you look out on the stumps where trees once stood, when you see browning pines and empty branches, know that all that green went somewhere, in the form of lighter taxes for those already well off.
When we decide it’s a virtue for money to be collected in the hands of a few, never forget that we all lose. It isn’t always immediately obvious how, but it always happens. Just ask the trees.
This entry was posted on Friday, June 19th, 2009 at 11:21 am and is filed under Politics, Stephanie Zvan. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.