August's last day is here ... at last

Friday, August 31, 2012

The end of August couldn't come too soon this year, as far as I'm concerned.

With the arrival of September we are that much closer to cooler days and nippy nights.

Thank goodness.

I know this area, the Midwest and the nation have endured droughts many times, but it's the current one that matters right now.

Maybe you read the story this week about the 350-year-old oak tree somewhere in Missouri that is showing signs of severe drought stress. The landowner has been hauling hundreds of gallons of water to the tree in hopes of keeping it alive until normal rainfall patterns resume.

That oak tree, if it's really 350 years old, has been through worse. If it's really 350 years old, that tree has demonstrated it can endure almost anything that comes along.

I'm not saying I don't believe the tree is old. I'm saying the tree shows how some living things deal with environmental disasters, natural or not, better than others.

Why, for example, don't all oak trees live three centuries or more?

When we moved into our current residence 15 years ago, we were drawn to the neighborhood by the enormous trees in the various yards. Our yard had two enormous pin oaks plus a good-sized ash and a couple of huge firs on steroids. We assumed, given their height and girth, that the trees were ancient. We supposed our neighborhood had been carved out of some ancient forest.

Then we met Mr. Foeste, the tree man who died recently. We purchased some shrubs from him several years ago, and when we told him where to deliver them, he told us he knew exactly where we lived. After all, he had planted the pin oaks and ash tree and fir trees in our yard, shortly after our house was built in the mid-1950s.

So why are the trees so big? we wondered. Lots of lawn fertilizer and watering over half a century makes for giant trees, he explained.

A neighbor whose house was the first to be built in our neighborhood told us shortly after we met Mr. Foeste that there were no trees at all on the hillside now covered with lawns, driveways and what appears to be a forest. She said a lone plum tree grew on the part of the hillside that became her backyard.

A few years after we moved into this house, the pin oak in our backyard died. One fall it was full of leaves and acorns, the next spring its limbs were bare as the rest of the neighborhood forest sprouted its green buds. It was no easy task, even for a professional tree remover, to take down the oak, which the tree man said topped out at nearly 100 feet. In the meantime, our next-door neighbor lost two of a row of five enormous pin oaks, and this year our neighbors across the street took down two large oaks after a windstorm deposited a tree-sized limb on their roof.

Tornado-strong winds have toppled yet other trees in the neighborhood over the few years we've been here. Our magnificent magnolia got a crew cut from the ice storms of not so long ago.

Yet friends who visit our neighborhood for the first time always comment about our "woodsy" landscape. They are struck by the quantity and size of large trees up and down our streets and in our backyards.

So maybe I shouldn't be so worried about the effects of the current drought and blistering temperatures. Maybe I should pay more attention to what we have instead of moaning about what we've lost.

We live in a wooded neighborhood full of shade and towering members of the oak, ash and poplar families.

I'm glad they're still here. I bet most of them last longer than I do.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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