If a tree falls on a garden, does it make a sound?
I can say definitively: Yes. And that sound is: “Arrrrggggghhh!!!”
The sound came from me, of course. I wasn’t around when the massive tree came down on my garden, so I can’t answer the larger existential question.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, and really wasn’t, that this tree fell. For one, the land where I garden is on a friendly neighbor’s horse farm. There are several mammoth trees, some easily older than a century. Any tree of that age is susceptible to one or a combination of forces that can bring it down. Age, disease, insect and animal abuse, human vandalism, bad luck. Probably a lot more reasons that a tree expert could suggest.
And, frankly, not being a person who pays much attention to the health of trees—except now and again when concerned that a huge one in my own back yard might decide to come crashing down on my house—I can imagine that any tree is a candidate to fall at any time. Maybe even planning and plotting in secret to do so, just to test my mettle.
But there’s another reason that I shouldn’t have been surprised that this tree came down. In late summer, within a span of five days, this garden endured a major earthquake and the remnants of a hurricane that roared up the East Coast. Either or both could have weakened the tree. In fact, right after the earthquake and hurricane I wrote an article—yet to be published—for the fall issue of Organic Gardens Today magazine recounting these back-to-back gardening challenges.
And, as we all know, bad things come in threes.
So the tree’s demise several weeks later was the third and final corner of this triangle of misfortune. At least, I hope so. If there’s another, bigger disaster out there lurking, it might qualify as the third and final installment of this series. Or, worse, it might signal a new cycle of bad things, with two more shoes to drop, to mix some metaphors.
But this isn’t about me and my problems. It’s about a tree.
One can only imagine the passing of history over the decades that this newly fallen tree might have “witnessed,” if we can ascribe any semblance of consciousness to something as truly vegetative as a tree. Yet, from its vantage point on the edge of a hiking, biking and horse riding trail—which before that was the Washington and Old Dominion railroad, making daily milk runs from the shadow of the Blue Ridge mountains almost to the Potomac River—so many slices of American life have passed by. By almost any measure, this tree had a front-row seat as a cavalcade of human life streamed by its roots, trunk, branches and leaves.
If only the tree could talk or provide some record other than a simple arithmetic of age through its rings. If only it could sing of its most glorious memories, of gorgeous fall foliage and optimistic spring awakenings. If only it could grouse about woodpeckers and the fungi that ate at its roots and the poison ivy that crept up its bark. And locusts. And lightning, lots of lightning.
Damage from the fall? Fortunately, the tree did not hurt anyone. It fell parallel to a horse corral fence, so neither fence nor horse was harmed.
The worst part of this incident was waiting more than two weeks for the tree to be sliced up and removed. Initially, I could tell that about 20 percent of my garden’s deer fence was damaged heavily. The thick metal poles that supported the vinyl mesh fence crumpled like soda cans. The mesh itself was ravaged. But there was too much tree in my garden to determine the fate of the plants that fate had placed in its path.
Now, with the only remnants of the tree being a stump, displaying a huge crack, and lots of firewood, I can see the extent the damage to the garden.
The verdict: I have been rather fortunate, actually. Some blueberry bushes were crushed. These were planted just about 18 months earlier. They had not really grown much, probably because I didn’t test the soil for proper acidity levels or make necessary adjustments before planting them. Most of the berries they had produced were enjoyed by winged raiders anyway.
A couple of rows of asparagus plants took much of the hit. But the timing was quite fortunate. By the end of the growing season, the impact on them is almost nil. Cold weather will destroy what a massive tree could not—the above-ground foliage, which is no longer needed by this time of the gardening year. The subterranean crowns should experience minimal disruption, if any, and should be as good as new next spring to send up edible spears.
The jury is out for two purple coneflower plants and a single red bee balm that I planted last spring. At the risk of sounding callous, I could replace them next year if necessary. I’m just cruel like that. I can’t act like these plants are family members, though at times I have tried.
And as for the fence, despite the fact that my left shoulder has been in therapy for about six months, I was able to bend the damaged fence posts and return them almost to their rightful positions—maybe not fully vertical, but loosely functional. And I was able to reattach the vinyl mesh loosely—enough for temporary deterrence of deer, bears, badgers, wolverines and other college football mascots. Another weekend very soon, after the first hard frost, I will do more permanent repair work on the fence. But it’s just possible that I can get by without having to spend any money on fixing it.
So, I ask myself now: What the hell had I been worried about?
To be honest, if a casual gardener or a non-gardener were to visit my plot today, he or she might not realize that a tree had fallen on it. In the grand scheme of things, very little has changed. The primary result of this event has been for me to recognize, once again, that things often are not as bad as we think they are, or as they fear they are. A little perspective helps.
So I have been inconvenienced, a little. I might need to spend some money to replace the blueberry plants. Maybe even plant something different in that corner.
Small potatoes when compared with the long “life” of a noble, dependable, living, breathing, shading, reliable life force that was the tree. Of course, if one of the equally old and potentially weak trees still standing near its stump decides to come crashing down anytime soon, I might change my tune.