For as long as I can remember, I have been near trees or wood products. If trees were not on the block I lived, there were some just a minute or two away. Probably every building I lived in was wood framed, and each had wood door and window frames. And of course I’ve had access to books, magazines, and newspapers everywhere.
When we lived in Plymouth outside Minneapolis, we planted a small variety of trees in addition to those left on the lot when our house was built. Over the twenty-two years we lived there, we cut some of them down and planted new ones. We cut trees down because they became diseased or otherwise threatened to fall down. We cut trees down because we wanted to plant something else there.
Two of the saddest removals were of a very large box elder and a clump of small box elders.
We had the large box elder taken down because it threatened to drop large limbs on our roof. Besides our visual loss, it might have been the loss of a home to a three-legged squirrel whom we saw raise several families.
I forgot why I cut down the smaller clump. When I cut down the first, a pair of crows were trying to land where the tree had been. “Where’s our nest? It used to be here.”
When we bought our property in Brimson, we also bought thousands of trees; mostly aspen and balsam fir and way too much alder. We also have a section of black spruce swamp, a small stand of red pine planted by a former neighbor, and tamarack. The first year we saw many large dead or dying birch; we thought that was the end of birch.
A few years before we bought the property, local loggers had clear-cut a large swath of aspen on the Federal land behind us and a section of the property. The aspen coming up were about ten-feet tall and an inch or two in diameter.
The DNR forester who gave us a stewardship plan told us that if we want moose, we should clear-cut. Moose like to browse on young aspen. We did see some moose tracks the first few years but haven’t seen anymore for a long time. Much of the aspen is five inches or more in diameter. Moose may still be in the area; a neighbor is a shed hunter and a few years ago found three interlocked horns.
Did you know that aspen is one of the largest organisms in the world? Aspen grows from an interlocking root system. I didn't find a reference to the largest in Minnesota, but Pando in Utah is considered the largest. It covers over 100 acres, weighs over thirteen million pounds, has over 40,000 stems, and is considered to be over 80,000 years old. If a single stem (trunk) dies, another will replace it from the root system.
Clear-cutting aspen is like giving it a bad cold. If you treat the cold, it will take seven “days” to heal; otherwise it will take a “week”.
Most of our firewood is aspen, but we don’t even have to cut it down. Enough aspen three-inch in diameter and larger breaks from wind that we only need to cut it up before it rots. Even then, I can’t keep up with clearing it.
Our preferred firewood is birch, but we have to wait a few years for cut birch to dry out. My rule of “thumbs” is that if I can’t touch my thumbs together as I wrap my hands around the trunk then it is a firewood candidate. Ah, yes! I didn’t tell you that birch is another “weed”. Some is growing surrounded by other trees, but most is growing along the edge of paths. Some is also growing from old stumps. And some I have transplanted from the utility right-of-way before the periodic brush cutting.
Another welcome “volunteer” is red maple. We planted some sugar maple in our cabin yard and elsewhere. Some sugar maple did well; some never grew over a foot. However, in the same area we planted sugar maple, red maple has come up without any help from us. We also have a stand of red maple along the back line that is doing well. It would do even better if I cut all the alder that is growing among the maples.
Alder, ah! There is a “noxious” weed if there ever was one. Alder grows in clumps that go every which way. Some will go just above the ground for six feet or more and then shoot right across a path at eye level. We cut down what we can, but we don’t work hard enough to keep paths open. We did find a tip that household bleach can kill the stump. We have only tried it on a few stumps. All I can say is that the stumps went from orange to white.
At our Duluth house we went from six or more trees to one, and that one is a replacement for one that was getting damaged by heavy snows. Most of the trees we took down were where we wanted to build a new garage or in the way of power or telephone lines. The best tree to take out was an American elm right next to the house. Squirrels used it to get to a vent. No elm, no squirrels in the wall.
Mel would have rather written this looking at hundreds of trees than a garage and other houses.
This was published in the Reader Weekly, 2014-11-20 at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2014/11/20/4403_i_like_trees_dead_or_alive.