Alder Abuse

Red alder (Alnus rubra) is the most common tree on my property. It is what ecologists call an early succession specie, meaning it is one of the first to grow on disturbed land. Foresters tend to dislike alder because it grows quickly and thickly and shades out our highly valued conifer species. For some reason, alders seem to like to grow along abandoned roads, and can be seen from a distance as light green stripes in second growth forests. Alders like to grow along watercourses and that’s why they profuse around our pond. It is a persistent chore to prune emerging alders, to keep them from taking over.
One alder in particular didn’t get pruned, and was a tall tree when we moved here. But its time had come. The main trunk was no longer robust and growing. Side branches had taken over as dominant points of growth, giving the tree a portly and drooping appearance. The tree was leaning over the pond dropping layers of leaves in the fall. But most significantly, this elderly alder was shading the garden. It had to get “pruned”, as low to the ground as possible.
My initial concept was to wait until the pond froze over, then to fall the alder over the ice and thereby allow easy cleanup of all the branches and litter. But just when you want it, winter doesn’t come. So plan B was to fall the tree before spring and before the desirable plants and flowers emerge from locations the alder was doomed to fall.
The round-to-it moment came one afternoon after my wife had left to conduct her downtown chores. I decided I wanted to surprise her and concocted a plan whereby I would remove the offending alder completely. I would wait to see how long it took for her to notice what had been done! So I brought the tractor around to the front field. I gassed up the chainsaw, and after donning earmuffs and safety goggles proceeded to cut the alder down, right across the pond and into a place where it would cause least damage. And as angels bless fools and drunks, the tree came down exactly where I had planned. Following that, it was a simple chore to drag the tree up onto the bank, using the bucket on the tractor, and to cut the alder into lengths. Cut rounds went into one pile and cut branches went into another. It took a few tractor trips with rounds in the bucket to transport them to backyard wood piles for splitting. I had strategically placed a rope where I had piled the branches, and it was a quick and easy task to draw a noose around the pile of branches, and to drag the whole out to a burn pile for later disposal. A few branches remained in the pond to be cleaned out. But pretty soon the chore was done and the tools returned to the barn. When my wife returned, there was very little evidence of the deed that had been done!
I chuckled with anticipation at how pleased my wife would be that the alder would no longer shade the garden. She drove into the driveway, past the now absent alder. She walked along the lawn in full view of where the alder had been and didn’t see a thing! Well of course not; there was nothing to see. How long would it take her to notice?
“What have you been doing today?” my wife asked. I made a purposefully awkward motion to conceal the earmuffs at my side. “Oh, just picking up branches” I replied. Concealing the earmuffs got her attention. She moved to see what I was hiding. She realized that I had been using the chainsaw, but didn’t ask any questions. We went in the house. Vicki looked out at the pond to see if she could spot what I had done, but there was still a line of alders along the pond that drew the eye. It is amazing how a person can fail to miss something they see every day if it merely disappears. I realized that I probably wouldn’t have noticed the absence of the tree if I hadn’t known what I had done! So I told her. Vicki looked out again. Then she looked again. Yes, the tree was gone!

Posted in A View from the Outside, April 2012, Columns

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