Out of Left Field: The Three Trees

The Emerald Ash Borer is my least favorite of all the Ash Borers. They stole my trees. For those unaware, the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is an invasive, yet strikingly handsome beetle first discovered in the U.S. in Detroit in 2002 — likely arriving as stowaways in a shipping container from overseas.

While Detroitians were celebrating a Redwings Stanley Cup Championship, Ash Borers were beginning to bore their way to the eventual destruction of Ash trees across North America. Their spreading infestation caused authorities to implement laws against moving potentially infected firewood across state lines (which is likely the most boring crime one can commit, other than perhaps ripping off a mattress tag that states “Do not remove under penalty of law”.)

Three of these doomed Ash trees flanked the west side of my house along the boulevard. They were unmistakable pillars of the landscape for nearly 50 years. Truthfully, these were hideous trees, even before the beetles arrived. They had bare spots, asymmetrical growth and dropped branches every time the wind picked up beyond a gentle breeze. Every fall I would waste countless hours raking up their stupid leaves, or at least feel bad when I ignored the leaves altogether and they blew into the neighbor’s yard.

These trees were annoying. But they were my trees.

Every time I stepped foot out my door for the past 20 years, these trees were in my direct or at least peripheral view. Until this year when the city began EAB infestation mitigation efforts. To slow the spread of the beetles’ destructive path, the city proactively removed Ash trees from city parks, bike paths and trees like mine along the boulevard.

One day, my three ugly trees were there. One day, they were gone. As we roamed the neighborhood, the familiar canopy was conspicuously different. Everywhere we went, there were hints of subtly-altered landscape. Piles of shredded ash bark and shimmering, emerald bug shrapnel were the only reminders of the previous vistas. (Sorry if that was an unnecessarily graphic description.)

The fight between Ash and Borer are part of the ordinary, yet powerful ebb and flow of nature. It seems like too big of a fight for humans to intervene. Surely we can only shrug our shoulders and helplessly watch the battle unfold as innocent bystanders. However, this fight itself was likely exacerbated by human’s ignorance and carelessness. We over-planted a monoculture of ash trees like they were on clearance at the tree store. We literally chauffeured bugs across the ocean to a multigenerational feast. And then we transported them around the country via intended firewood.

Nature is powerful. But humans are powerful enough to screw up nature. We also have the power to fix our screw ups. We can’t control nature. But we can nurture nature.

We have a lot to learn about how to best interact with the planet without making it angry. It’s a daunting task, but we can start with a simple commitment to trying. Maybe we can save the next three trees.




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