Merely Words: Deceased Sylvan Giants

Dead trees. I suppose it is a horrible combination of words, but that is our subject this fine spring morning.  Of course spring is “otherwise”. It is the very essence of life. The world struggles, foments, surges with life this season of the year. Bulbs buried, forgotten in the earth, are not dead. They, by spring, are beauties revealed as only temporarily sleeping. Botanical nuggets pushed up into bloom: whites, yellows, dramatic rainbows  and bloody reds- narcissus, jonquils, tulips, amaryllis.  Our shrubberies, not to be left behind, burst into color and life: azaleas, spiraeas, hydrangeas- luminescent color wheels, white, pink, and blue. Even vines twist and turn among them with their spring-inspired swirls of color.   Then there are the great ones, the trees. Spring pushes with all its might the giants of God’s garden into furious activity. Primeval eruptions break forth in chartreuse and the most delicate of greens. Following the greening is the erotica of flower and fruit, horticultural children for years to come.  Even the stodgy evergreens, holly and magnolia, bloom in white- one shy the other bold. Ah,spring – Glory Be! All that does not keep up with spring is revealed as dead or dying.  Close by my home there is a large, ancient, dead tree. It stands a wooden obelisk forty feet in the air. The tree once had mighty branches, and now it has none. Its bark has begun to slip and shed; it now stands bare and unclothed. And as spring has come in repeated seasons, the tree does not even stir.  Yet, in death’s wake the moldy, fibrous corpse harbors life. How can that be? The tree is a virtual neighborhood of life. Insects by the thousands burrow through it, making it a supermarket for hungry woodpeckers. The holes these birds excavate expand out season after season, creating nesting places for other birds: chickadees, titmice, bluebirds. As time goes by and as the tree becomes hollow, raccoons rear families. Life again surges, especially in the spring, as birds nest and hover over their broods. Now, this large tree in my neighbor’s yard is most likely there because of benign neglect. No one has ever gotten around to cutting the poor thing down. For this I am happy. Even though the rush of spring does not bring new life through the bark and branches of the tree, life it there. Most folks wouldn’t allow a dead tree in their landscape. We are too neat and clean for such things. But if you have an old ancient crag of a tree somewhere on your property and have the room to let it stay, why not? Trim off the branches that might be unsafe if they fell and let the sylvan giant be. Old deceased red cedars are perfect and can last for decades in a landscape, adding beauty and ancient panache. The tree in my neighborhood is a favorite perch of a mature barred owl and his buddies who regularly form a parliament outside my window. I don’t know which laws they are discussing nightly, but I can tell you politics have never before been so pleasant. Now, if you want to add a bit of decoration to an old dead tree, you might plant some Carolina Jasmine or Bignonia. These vines will crawl up almost any structure and add a little color and horticultural life.  Some people even fill some of the cavities with ferns or flowering perennials. But otherwise, you might just try to adjust your mind to the whole idea of allowing an old dead tree to stay on your property and making it a part of your garden. Think of it as picturesque, if not actually beautiful.

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