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My Turn: Committed to our trees

“But a leaf that lingered brown,

Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,

Comes softly rattling down.”

— “A Late Walk”‘ by Robert Frost

This winter has laid bare the aging frailties of Greenfield. At least it seems to me that the trees of Greenfield appear to be dying. Have you noticed?

After every snow storm, every hurricane, every heavy rain or wind, there is another tree that has met its doom, another trunk cracked, another bough snapped, another tree denuded of its branches standing there lopsided and precariously balanced ready to crash to the ground. I know that late winter brings out the worst in trees — like they’ve been sleeping and have just woken up and have not had time yet to drag a comb through their hair. However, this year the trees seem to be particularly unkempt.

It’s no wonder, actually. Many of Greenfield’s trees were planted around 50 or 60 years ago, and they’ve naturally aged. Sadly, our trees don’t live forever.

What can be done? I decided to become a member of the Greenfield Tree Committee because I care about our trees. They are a living part of our community and have given us so much. Now it is up to us to take care of these aging trees and not to take them for granted. We can prolong the lives of many trees by pruning and taking care not to damage them further. We can plant new trees to replace those trees long gone or those about to be demolished or taken by Nature’s wrath.

The Greenfield Tree Committee is working on obtaining a grant to produce a tree inventory of all the remaining town-owned trees in the more densely populated parts of Greenfield. We want to identify the species, the age and condition of the trees and how close they are to utilities, so that we and the town will have a better idea of what we can do to preserve and take care of them. The inventory will help identify streets that have few remaining trees and will also prioritize areas for planting new trees.

It is quite shocking to discover that trees in urban settings, such as Main Street, are expected to live only eight to 10 years. Some of our young, newly planted downtown trees have a life expectancy of even less than that. It is not easy to grow trees downtown. They don’t always get enough water — especially during the crucial first three years after planting. Hot dry summers and drought conditions don’t help, either. The gratings around the base of the trees can sometimes choke the tree roots and not allow enough drainage or water to reach the plant. Then there are the chemicals, salt and snowplows in the winter, and if the young trees can survive all that, they then risk getting vandalized!

It is not easy being a tree in a town.

The Tree Committee is committed to taking care of the trees we do have. Mulching around trees keeps the moisture in and the weeds and grass out, but it breaks my heart to see people taking care of their trees by piling mulch and soil around the roots right up to contact with the trunk of the tree. Did you know that could suffocate the tree? The base of the roots should be left free and open because the tree gets oxygen from the base of those roots. We call those well meaning pile-ups around the base of trees “little volcanoes” and they are slowly killing the trees, just like the concrete paving around the trees downtown.

Watering during dry periods, checking the trees in the spring for insects or pests, watching where you dig, mowing and weedy whacking are all things we can do to help keep a tree healthy, so that we can sit underneath and enjoy them.

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today
because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

— Warren Buffett

Arbor Day celebrations are coming up on Friday, April 26. For the last 10 years, Greenfield has been designated a “Tree City” by the Arbor Day Foundation. To honor this day, we will plant a tree in a public space with a proclamation of the town’s commitment to nurturing and planting trees.

Many qualities attracted me to this beautiful area, but the mature trees and the forests, the rich canopy of green, cool shade provided by these beautiful trees in the summer and the glorious fiery leaf colors of the fall have to be the strongest draws. These trees are our inheritance, and we can pass on this heritage to the Greenfield citizens of the future by caring for these trees that were planted before us, and offering that same gift to those who come after us.

“By means of trees, wildlife could be conserved, pollution decreased,
and the beauty of our landscapes enhanced.
This is the way, or at least one of the ways,
to spiritual, moral, and cultural regeneration.”

— E.F. Schumacher

Annette Kilminster lives in Greenfield.

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