Sunday, December 21, 2014

A stately old companion faces a tough future


From page A10 | November 17, 2013 |

Recently I got bad news about a loved one. It came from our tree man, Jim, who told me he had brought an arborist over to our cabin near Coloma.

“My arborist never says this,” Jim began. “But he said it this time. He said that if his family lived under that tree, he’d take it down.”

The tree I love is at least 150 years old, a towering ponderosa pine only 20 feet from our country cabin. It was there before we built and before regulations required greater distances between buildings and trees. It’s close to the house, but that’s why I love it.

My husband and I have tried to take good care of our loved one. Each year an expert comes to spray for bark beetles. We lay hose in rings around the tree and give it extra, well-distributed water. I have noticed brown needles, more than on our other ponderosas, but the tree always greened up when the rains came.

Two of my bird feeders hang close to its patchworked bark. They draw a lot of customers — goldfinches, juncos, sparrows — leading me to spend many hours watching. I can barely imagine what it would be like to look out our window and not see that massive trunk.

“I’m not saying it will fall tomorrow,” Jim continued. “It could be five years, 10 years, 20. But it’s leaning towards your cabin and if it falls it will crush the cabin and the cars behind it. You’d lose everything.

“Of course, it won’t be easy to remove.”

This is true. Only a crane could lift the ponderosa without damaging the cabin or other trees. Once the big guy is down, carting it off to a mill will be pricey.

Jim offers a stopgap measure.

“We’ll run a length of polycord between your ponderosa and the oak behind. If we monitor that cord, we’ll get a warning if the lean increases.”

We talk prices, which are high for everything except polycord.


Alone after Jim leaves, I lean back in my chair, thoughts swirling. Trees. On few topics have my views changed so radically.

As a young person, I was not indifferent to trees. Growing up in the East among the lush green of spring and the bright reds of fall, I found trees beautiful. I liked their fruit. I took interest in the birds, especially when they nested.

But I never associated trees with time. Elementary school teachers taught us to count rings, of course, and told us that some trees grow more quickly than others, but I never sat down and compared the human lifespan, especially my own lifespan, to that of a tree.

It took getting older and buying wooded property until I finally understood the truth about trees.

They grow slowly. You can’t rush them. You can only wait.

When you’re old, you need to appreciate and preserve the trees that are here already because you won’t be around for new ones to get big.

This is why the elimination of diseased walnut trees on Russell Blvd pained me. That stately line of trees has long been a point of beauty in Davis, and although many trees remain, the line is broken now and some of the replacement trees are very small. Re-achieving symmetry could take another 200 years, if anyone cares enough to stay on it.

Plans to fell old trees for The Cannery project and replace them with saplings also distress me.

Trees require planning like few other things, and I have a personal example of the problem with adding new trees.

In 2003 our country neighbor threw up an eyesore metal barn very close to our cabin. In response, we planted a valley oak and 15 redwoods to screen it.

Now, 10 years later, the oak is gorgeous but it doesn’t cover much. The redwoods are bushy, but not tall. By the time I’m 80, they’ll provide a good screen. When I’m 100, some will probably have to be cut down due to crowding. When I’m 150, the remaining redwoods will be magnificent.

That’s the kind of timeline you have to think about when it comes to trees.


When I think about our ponderosa, I don’t dwell on the money, although taking it down will be expensive. I don’t think about the danger of the tree falling on our cabin, although that’s my motive for action.

I think about the tree itself. Mighty. Beautiful. Long-lived. Much longer than I. We counted 142 rings on another ponderosa that died from bark beetles when we first bought our place.

The ponderosa next to our cabin was jostled by our building process 12 years ago, possibly leading to its weakened condition. Left alone in the forest, this gentle giant would have lived until it died naturally, but in the name of safety we may soon cut its life short.

I feel sadly responsible. When it comes down, I will grieve.

— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at



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