Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Lives of Trees: An Old Friend Falls as New Ones Arrive

Trees, like people, have a natural life cycle and a finite life span. Trees grow up, grow old, and eventually die. The life span of a tree is influenced or determined by a variety of natural events, not the least of which is the variety itself. Some tree species simply live longer than others. Other factors that affect the life span of a tree include the availability of water, sun, the presence or absence of wind, fires, insects, as well as specific diseases.

It is said that sugar maples can live up to 400 years. While we do not have an exact figure on this tree, we estimate that this particular maple is most likely well over 150 years old. It was probably here when the land was cleared for the first house. It was a mature tree as far back as my father can remember, and I grew up loving this lofty beauty. Its sheltering foliage has shaded me from the hot southwestern Ontario sun many a summer. I have often read beneath its lush green canopy, or sat with a dog at my side and my back against its sturdy trunk. At one time, many years ago, that area was fenced. Happily for me and my horse, there was a gate directly beneath the two old maples, and kids and horses just love gates: I liked to perch on the top rung and my horse liked to hang his head over it. We spent some good times together in the shade of that tree. Winter, spring, summer and fall—it has been there all the days of my life, so I shall miss it terribly if it has to come down.

I think this will soon be inevitable, however. It is not looking healthy at the crown. The foliage is small compared to that of its equally elderly neighbour, another big old maple tree just a few feet away. While only one of the largest limbs has sheared off, the interior texture of that limb was soft and spongy. I am no expert, but I think this once sturdy sentinel is probably at the end of its life cycle. Will it last the summer? Even as we welcome 1500 new trees this month, it seems we will soon be saying goodbye to a dear old friend.

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