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My Elms

November 12, 2009

I had my elm trees pruned last week. Yep. Elm trees. Ulmus Americana. Eight of them line up in graceful symmetry across my front yard.

There are 170,00 elms in Winnipeg, according to the local Coalition to Save the Elms. Not many North American cities can brag about that anymore. “Our forest is unique in the world,” according to chief forester Mike Allen. “There’s no other city anywhere with this incredible natural arch of trees.” But we’ve lost an estimated 33% of our elms since Dutch Elm Disease (DED) first invaded Winnipeg in the 1960s.

Last summer an elm a block or so away succumbed to the dreaded DED. The city marked it with an orange target and cut it down. Walking the dog recently I noticed an elm across the street from it was leafless and now sports an orange circle. It spooked me.

The elms didn’t convince me to buy our house twenty years ago. But the day we looked at it a Baltimore Oriole was singing in the canopy, and I noticed its nest swaying from the end of one of its long, bending branches. It seemed like a good omen.

A couple of years later my neighbor, a guy with TMMNEB Syndrome – Too Much Money, Not Enough Brains, bought himself a chainsaw. Every time he fired up that growling plaything, I shuddered. It was only a matter of time before he took it to an elm that was right on his side of the property line. That perfect line of soldier elms that extended from the east of my property to the west of his and beyond was destroyed. The inchworms that ate elm leaves were defecating on his car. Shortly after that the orioles disappeared from the neighborhood. Perhaps erroneously, I blame him.

We didn’t talk much after that. To me he was like the vandals that bombed the famous Wolseley Elm on Halloween Eve over 50 years ago. That magnificent tree stood in the middle of a street with its own little park; some of the original tree-huggers had fought successfully for its preservation. Vandals caused its demise. My neighbor wasn’t all that different.

My trees are particularly vulnerable. We live right near the Red River, and the elm bark beetle uses that corridor to invade the city. So, with elm trees dying nearby, I phoned a tree service.

The guy that showed up didn’t call himself a Tree Surgeon; he said he was an Arborist. Fine. Guys that used to be called janitors are now maintenance engineers. At least he doesn’t call himself an Ecological Enhancement Technician. Guys with weed-whackers and power mowers call themselves that in some places. Behind his back I called my guy a Chainsaw Monkey. He was a great performer.

Chainsaw Monkey pruned all of the dead branches on my trees – even though I asked him to leave some as snags for the birds that come to my feeders. I hope this is enough to keep my elms healthy. If even one succumbs to this deadly arboreal scourge, it would be a great loss.

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