Notes From My Knapsack 4-14-16
Trees telling a tale
This spring has seen the decline and fall of a number of great trees of my acquaintance. In fact, the last two years have taken quite a few old friends out of circulation, here in Granville and around the county.
In the last few weeks, a range of streetside trees have gone away where Mt. Vernon Road comes south to cross Rt. 16 heading into downtown Newark. Buildings are getting renovated on one side, structures are coming down and being abandoned in preparation for demolition as we get closer to a bridge widening project that will make Rt. 13 and Mt. Vernon Road two way traffic through there.
Since I work a mile north of downtown Newark, and come back this way down Rt. 13 all the time, it's a familiar stretch of streetscape. And it's startling how completely different the block looks with those trees down.
When I'm waiting for the light to turn right onto Rt. 16, the now empty block to my left where the Cunningham house is already an historical memory, there's a lonely magnolia whose spring glory is almost surely its last, the blossoms now falling petal by pink petal.
But coming back down Newark-Granville Road into the village, the dread plague of orange dot disease seems to be as hard on our trees as emerald ash borers and gypsy moths have been. Some gnarled old guardians of the bike path, grown in a twist around metal fence posts and utility guy wires, are gone; closer in, some trunks that clearly have little life above are wearing their sad stain, and some gaps in the foliage tunnel will no doubt soon appear.
In my own neighborhood, the homeowners association will meet here in another week, and we trustees will talk about the blight that's spread in our area of common responsibility, forcing the removal and ultimately replacement of some large evergreens. You learn in this work that this particular task ain't cheap. And thinking about a tree suddenly down across a corner of a house is a reminder of why it probably shouldn't be.
A recent photo on Facebook made the rounds of Granville folk, a view east on Broadway's end at the base of Mount Parnassus, showing the view up branching off the interurban line and the curve of the road heading into Clear Run's valley below.
And there's no trees. Virtually none, on the slopes, across the horizon. No trees.
A hundred years ago or so, the movement from pioneer settlement to the spread of agriculture had resulted in the cutting of every mature tree across the landscape. The woodsy village we're used to thinking of as timeless is a relatively recent development.
And if you go over to the Octagon Earthworks next Sunday (Apr. 17) in the afternoon, and join in one of the tours of the grounds, you will likely hear that, 2,000 years ago, the plateau defined between Raccoon Creek and the South Fork of the Licking River and Ramp Creek was, according to soil studies, a managed prairie. That data, along with the work compiled by science writer Charles Mann in his book "1491" indicates that it's not unreasonable to see the data as telling us much of the lowland areas of Licking County were carefully and thoughtfully managed for centuries even before the Newark Earthworks complex was constructed, a treeless terrace above the river valleys that gave clear views of the horizon. There the sunrises and moonrises and other astronomical appearances would be easily in evidence.
Trees are good, but they're like us, players passing across this vast stage that is the Land of Legend.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about trees you have known at email@example.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.