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Gas Pains

Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.

Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.

Edward Scissorhands

Chores, Sustainable Forestry, Wisconsin Champion Trees

Inspiration for this post was the result of a conversation in the past week with Facebook friend Chris McLaughlin.

What we know for sure is that Edward Scissorhands didn't do this.

The power company did it.  Only the power company enjoys an additional envious monopoly.  That of tree disfigurement.

The outrageous mutilation this tree has suffered is ghastly.  Of course the mutilation is in our eyes - not the eyes of the tree.  Trees don't have eyes and shouldn't have anthropomorphisms associated with them.  This tree is doing just fine because trees are good at adapting to their environment or adjusting to the hand of man.  Nevertheless, this rather common sight makes me nuts. Remind me to tell the story sometime of the gauntlet I threw down to Wisconsin Public Service after planting a quarter mile of trees along a county road at our place up north.

Sure, I get that trees shouldn't be planted beneath power lines as they are doomed to this ridiculous treatment.  And to the extent possible power lines shouldn't be relocated over high value trees - thereby endangering the tree to removal or a power company crew cut.  I also understand the importance of delivering reliable power at an affordable price.

Trees have a lot going for them - they've got a great number of deliverables.  Shade to cool your home, clean air, clean water, carbon storage, wildlife habitat, nice aesthetics (power company notwithstanding) and much more.  Wauwatosa is even home to some of Wisconsin's Champion Trees.

As a tree farmer I also understand the economics of trees.  Trees are long-stemmed plants that at a future point in time will be harvested to produce saw boards, veneer or pulp.  Wood products are used in construction, the manufacture of furniture and millwork.  And plenty of it ends-up in paper products like tissues, toilet paper, child and adult diapers, paper plates, paper towels and packaging material.  The forest products industry is one of the main drivers of Wisconsin's economy.  And products made from trees happens to be the gold standard of sustainability.  You can always plant more trees.

Having checked the records Jill and I are about four weeks behind previous years for a major winter chore.  Namely corrective pruning of oak trees.  It's not that we're lazy or anything.  We're behind because of the brutal cold weather of last month and the loss of a couple of weekends due to a trip to France.

So we're making up some lost ground with tree farm chores and doing our Edward Scissorhands thing.

You've probably heard the old adage - as the twig is bent so grows the tree.  Take a moment to look at your city tree alongside the street where you live.  It is likely a sturdy species capable of adapting to concrete, road salt and neglect.  It will also sport plenty of crooks and turns with multiple branches going every which way.  This is because city trees are shaped and trained to not only allow clearance for the garbage and recycling carts to be handled - they are also pruned to open their canopy, frame views and generally be an object of interest.  Something pleasing to the eye of a city beholder.  A tree farmer will look at a city tree and comment that it is full of defects.  Tree farmers like to produce trees with tall, straight main stems (trunks), a minimal number of knots, maximum yield in board feet and few if any defects.  Thus valuable hardwoods are planted in alternate rows alongside conifers.  The bushier pines "train" the hardwoods to grow straight and tall while the tree farmer prunes any defects or horizontal limbs as the crop tree reaches for the sky.  Winter is the ideal time to do this as the chance of spreading disease like oak wilt is nil.  There are no bugs around that might be attracted to a fresh wound on the tree.

The tree below is a swamp white oak - Quercusbicolor.  It was machine planted in the spring of 1999 as a one year-old bare root seedling.  A mere runt.  That tiny seedling with a couple of leaves led a tenuous existence the first half-dozen years of it's life.  It has survived gnawing mice, voles, rabbits, procupine and deer.  It has suffered defoliation by gypsy moth, periods of drought and plenty of other perils.  Today it's approaching thirty feet in height and putting on some girth.  And after it grew above the height of the local whitetail population every couple of years it gets a corrective trimming.  Here's a before and after.

Look at that nice, straight main leader of a trunk.  No defects.  It's an object of beauty - not an object of interest.  This survivor is worthy of a hug - or at least a friendly pat on the bark.  In a couple of years a pole saw will replace the loppers.  But I gotta tell you that as much as Jill and I enjoy all the fresh air and exercise if I had to do this all over again I would have started earlier and located in Alabama or Mississippi.  The older I get the harder this maintenance is and the closer you get to the equator the faster the dang things grow...

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