An old and dear friend at the lake passed away this autumn.
Our grand sugar maple, the signature tree of our lake property, became too sick to save and had to be taken down.
It was a glorious tree, with a trunk six feet in circumference, and just over two feet in diameter. I won’t know its age until we cut the stump closer to the ground and count the growth rings. Sugar maples can live 200 years or more.
I noticed that the tree was not quite right early in the summer. Its leaves were well formed but stunted. By early fall they still had not grown to full size.
Summer was a washout, much rain and little sunshine and warmth. So I thought maybe that was the reason the leaves were not growing, even though those on other trees had reached maturity.
Then I noticed a scabby area near the ground. Poking around with my fingers revealed a large area of rot.
I called in Josh Burk of ArborView Tree Care who confirmed the tree was sick and would not recover.
I wanted to let it stand as long as possible but it was a 40-to-50 foot tree and if it came down in storm it would hit a building, or land heavily on the septic field. So, sad as it was, it had to come down, in pieces.
That old maple was an important part of life at the lake. It sheltered us as we cooked, ate and slept while clearing the lot for a building more than 30 years ago. Later, it shaded the south side of the cottage from the afternoon sun and protected it from snow and rain.
Children played games beneath it and one spring we tapped it to show them how its sap could be turned to maple syrup.
And of course at this time of year it provided a beauty pageant with leaves turning pale yellow, then orangey, then brilliant scarlet.
It was a larger-than-life example of how trees are givers rather than takers and why they are critical to life on our planet.
Trees are the largest plants and the longest living species on earth. The benefits they provide are extensive.
To begin with, trees absorb carbon dioxide, an important factor in climate change, and they give off life-giving oxygen. It is estimated that one large tree can supply oxygen enough for four people for one day.
Trees are earth’s most important pollution filters. It is believed that a large tree canopy removes up to 1.7 kilograms of dust and other pollutants every year.
They filter the soil as well as the air, absorbing chemicals and sewage with their roots. Their large root networks are important in slowing flash flooding and erosion. That’s why some governments forbid the cutting of live trees along lake shorelines.
Tree canopies reduce wind and lower temperatures. They also absorb sound, lessening noise from road traffic and generally reducing noise pollution by as much as 40 per cent.
They are good for human health. Research shows that being among trees lowers blood pressure and slows the heart rate.
They supply us with many material goods. They provide fruit and flowers, fuel for cooking and heating and lumber for building.
The giving nature of trees is illustrated exceptionally well in The Giving Tree, a 1964 children’s picture book by Shel Silverstein. Early on the Giving Tree provides a boy with a place to climb and play. Later it gives him apples, then wood for a variety of building projects.
When the boy becomes an old man, the tree has given him everything until it has been reduced to a stump. Even then it still gives – the stump providing a seat on which the old man can sit and rest.
The Giving Tree is one of the most popular books in the history of children’s literature, and one of the most controversial. The controversy relates to whether the relationship between the boy and the tree is about selfless love, or an abusive relationship.
It is a silly controversy. All I know is that trees are good and that I am going to miss our old sugar maple.