Acts of God

It was 10 at night and pouring rain when one of my best trees -- a ramrod-straight black walnut -- twisted out of the ground and fell across the road and nearly onto a sweet, old couple's home. The only thing holding off that prospect was their giant maple and another of my healthiest trees, a hackberry. You may remember that things have been quite soggy around here. Couple that with some very strong winds -- and the fact that my neighbor replaced much of the soil on his side of the trees with pavement and gravel -- and you have the perfect recipe for disaster. Sadly, that neighbor never realized that the placement of his driveway could have contributed to the extreme soil erosion on his side of the tree. People seldom consider the needs of city-dwelling trees, but I wish they would.

In all, nearly a dozen mature trees delineate the perimeter of my little homestead. That was partly what drew me to the property in the first place. Besides the black walnuts and that hackberry, there are tulip poplars, sundry maples, and a locust which flings large, reddish pods all over the yard. In general, trees are essential to any well-planned landscape, and, provided they don't shade out one's only available garden plot, they are particularly prized by organic gardeners like me. That's because their fallen leaves, stray limbs, and even those weird pods make fantastic fodder for the compost heap. I chip up the carbon-rich matter and mix it in to help balance out my household's nitrogen-heavy kitchen scraps. Less labor-intensive but just as effective, "lasagna" gardening makes great use of dead leaves, maple tree seed "helicopters," sweet gum balls, pinecones, and more.

All that makes losing those trees extra painful for me. Thankfully, although they came close, at least the walnut and hackberry didn't crash into the neighbors' place. But they did clobber my black raspberry hedgerow, and they left an incredible gap in my landscape. Unfortunately, it will be a long, long time before their replacements reach the former trees' impressive size.