Friday, July 05, 2013

3749 Trees

Friday, July 5, 2013

It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me,
it is the parts that I do understand. 
--Mark Twain--


My neighbors must be smarter and more organized than they seem.  Last night's back yard fireworks started at precisely 9:30, and except for a few small sputters they ended at 10:00.  The purpose of the coordination appears to be to overwhelm the police.  They can't arrest everyone all at once.


The dominant volunteer tree around here seems to be the sweetgum.  At the country house, in the Mid-Hudson Valley, it's the locust, some black locust and some honey locust.

Any smart homeowner around here will immediately kill any gum tree found on their property.  The damn things produce copious pollen that thickly covers everything, and then in fall they drop thousands of hard spiny gumballs that threaten bare feet, destroy lawn mowers, and grab the grass so that they are serious work to rake up.  No insects or birds eat the seeds or balls (some people claim goldfinches eat them, others argue with that), and the balls take forever to rot into humus. 

I inherited a huge gum tree at the end of the back yard, and my neighbor has two that overhang my driveway in front.

I hate the damn things.  They have no redeeming features (if you're not a furniture manufacturer).

In the Hudson Valley, you'll find locust trees in places where old pastures and orchards have gone wild, and in straight well-spaced lines bordering current fields and along old farm roads.

Crowded locusts are rather ugly, especially the black locusts.  They don't like crowding, and grow spindly and strangely angled.  The woods around the country house are black locust, in what was once colonial apple orchards.  I joined Jay there in January, 1994, when the locusts were bare and starkly black.  They looked exactly like what you would expect to see behind a movie haunted house.  Spooky.  Ugly.  They disturbed me, especially in moonlight.

Locusts have long very sharp spines on the trunks, branches, and twigs.  Touching a locust tree can be painful - so just don't touch them - and the spines make them look even more evil in the winter.  In spring they have long clusters of blossoms that look like white wisteria, and smell wonderful.  My first spring in that house I forgave the locusts their evil appearance.  I looked forward every spring to that scent.

Given room to grow they become full, straight, spreading, and rather attractive.  The well-spaced straight lines of locusts around old farms are due to an interesting feature of locusts.   The wood is hard, strong, and resistant to rotting, so early farmers cut sections of locust branches for fence posts.  But that's not the interesting feature.  A chunk of locust branch stuck into the ground, will, after a year or two or three or even five or seven, grow roots and branch out, and become a tree, and that's why you so often see huge old locusts in lines along farm roads and between fields.  They were once fence lines.

Compared to the nasty useless gum balls, the long flat bean pods of locust are beneficial.  Mowed, they make a nourishing mulch for the lawn.  The sweet pulp in the honey locust pods is a delicious treat, if you can get to them before the animals.

I never expected to say I miss locust trees, but having met gums, now I do miss and appreciate them.

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