Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Posthumous Fame" - a poem

The English Elms

Seven Sisters in Tottenham,

long gone, except for their names,

were English elms.

Others stood at the edge of farms,

twinned with the shapes of clouds

like green rhymes;

or cupped the beads of the rain

in their leaf palms;

or glowered, grim giants, warning of storms.

In the hedgerows in old films,

elegiacally, they loom,

the English elms;

or find posthumous fame

in the lines of poems -

the music making elm -

for ours is a world without them...

to whom the artists came,

time after time, scumbling, paint on their fingers and thumbs;

and the woodcutters, who knew the elm was a coffin's deadly aim;

and the mavis, her new nest unharmed in the crook of a living, wooden arm;

and boys, with ball and stumps and bat for a game;

and nursing ewes and lambs, calm under the English elms...

great, masterpiece trees,

who were overwhelmed.

- Carol Ann Duffy

Those two photographs above are before (1970) when the elm trees were alive, and after they died, and were since replaced with limes.

According to a story from the BBC, a new wave of disease is sweeping across England, threatening to finish off the elms, following the devastation that started in the 1970's.

"It's caused by a fungus which is carried around by a beetle," explained Mary Parker, Dutch elm disease control officer for East Sussex County Council.

"They feed on the twigs - as they do so they bite through the bark and the spores that are on their back get in under the bark, travel down the tree and the water vessels, and as they do so it causes a reaction and kills the tree."

I wonder if it has anything to do with this: "Ozone-killed tissues are readily infected by certain fungi" - Alabama Cooperative Extension... or this: "Possible impacts of ozone on forest species include reduced growth and vigor, reduced seed production, and increased susceptibility to insects and disease." - USDA Forest Service

This is actually a painting of an elm, from 1821, by Constable!


Over time, trees evolved along with the rest of the millions of species in a complex, balanced web of symbiotic relationships. Then all the sudden, after we infect the atmosphere with toxic gases and distort the balance, lo and behold, the trees start to succumb to one plague after the other - insects, fungus, and bacteria. Seriously - there's no connection? For some random reason, the insects and fungus and disease have just run amuck and are driving trees to extinction?

Here's a little bit about the American chestnut blight, first detected in 1904. Within 40 years it had decimated the population...nearly 4 billion trees had been killed.

"Mature trees often grew straight and branch-free for 50 feet (sometimes up to one hundred feet), and could grow up to 200 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 14 feet at a few feet above ground level."

It is inconceivable how much has been lost, and one reason I am doubtful we can survive. How creepy is it that this photo in Wiki is labeled "Cankers caused by the fungal infection cause the tree trunk to split." when I have posted innumerable examples of "BALDing" - Bark Atrophy Lichen Decline" which can now be found on ALL species of trees, along with splitting bark and spectacularly enormous cankers??

Thanks to Desdemona Despair for that link, where another can be found to Canadian wildfires which are so extensive now that the air far away is dangerous to breathe. These are going to become so much more common, everywhere, as trees die - and they will far outpace the capability of existing firefighting infrastructure. They will menace the suburbs, and insurance companies will be unable to fulfill the claims.

This photo is from Australia, a 160 year old oak that fell over in April 2008.

This photo is from 1956...

a Michigan elm, known as Buckley, over 300 years old, which was diagnosed with DED in 2000. 23.5 feet in circumference, 112' tall, a crown 115' across.

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