Friday, June 10, 2011

Wake the Fuck Up

Oops sorry.  There goes my potty mouth.  I keep looking at that title and thinking that I should change it, but I honestly can't think of any more appropriate there it remains.  I have been collecting a prodigious stack of links to research and news articles about ozone and its pernicious effects on human health and plants - but haven't had time to read through and post excerpts. So they will have to wait, because the empirical evidence of radically worsening damage to foliage is becoming overwhelming.  I started compiling pictures over a week ago, as I went about my errands, when the pace of tree decline was already staggering - well before the current heat wave.  They follow, in chronological order.  (I know, too many!  Hello, fresh hell.)
Last Friday it was mostly sunny but for a few high, wafting clouds, whilst a gentle, pleasant breeze prevailed.  I spent a good part of the afternoon mesmerized by the gyrations of trees, warily watching the unwarranted swoops of their bending tops, where leaves fluttered - limp and overturned - so that their silvered undersides were more pronounced than the soft greens of early summer.
The bare branches above project from a towering hickory; below, leaves of a young oak, which took root at the base of a larger tree, are tossed upside down.
This curled purple foliage is upended on a redbud.
I don't want to go all mystical but the scene was so bizarre it felt otherworldly.  The first time I noticed an unprecedented, ubiquitous, alarming lifelessness in wilted leaves was August, 2008 - and that is when I started to wonder why.  Now it is prevalent on all sorts of trees - in the earliest days of June!
On the way home that afternoon I pulled over and hiked out to the peak of a high hay field, to look at the panoramic view.
For three decades I have cherished this unspoilt vista of rolling, wooded ridges and valleys.
Enlarging the canopy in the distance,  the standing dead remain in the woods where there is less urgency for their removal than those near buildings, roads and power lines.
We have had day after stifling day of "Code Orange" air quality alerts in this rural area.
So the horizon is obscured by haze, but not too murky to observe the march of forest decline.
What's astonishing is how much worse things got in the week since the first of these photos were taken.
It's important to remember that all sorts of trees are experiencing the same loss of leaves.
The following photos are from the village of Peapack, which consists of a park with a pond, a few shops and homes, and not much else.
This cedar stands in front of a preserved, historic log cabin.  I have been watching it become progressively thinner.
Just a couple of years ago, it was so dense you could not see through the needles to the sky.  Below is a photo from last October, where the inner needles are turning yellow prior to being shed (no, that's not normal!)

At the base of the trunk is a canker.  Cankers are initiated by a fungal infection and eventually are lethal - just like a cancerous tumor.  A majority of trees now have at least one, and oftentimes several.

This pine is across the street.  It too had a unexceptional complement of needles just two years ago, and now the top is completely bare.
These are pictures of the lower branches where the inner needles are brown from cumulative exposure to ozone.
The new, green growth on the tips is not sufficient to compensate for the more rapid loss of prior seasons' needles.
In the same little park the town has been planting young trees as the older, dying ones are felled.
Their crowns indicate they are not going to make it more than another year or two, at most.
This particular one is a maple, and leaves yellowed from chlorosis - an inability to produce chlorophyll - are festooned on dying branches.
In the foreground of the church lot are two replacement oaks.  The one on the left is going to be the first to succumb.
Enormous old trees like this pine are a hazard.  They are dying so fast in such numbers that the tree crews cannot keep up.
I took a detour into a development where the landscaped yards are faring no better or worse than established, native woods.

I wound up in Chester, NJ, a self-consiously quaint shopping mecca for antique useless old junk enthusiasts.
The trees lining the streets are in uniformly terrible condition.

It became impossible to ignore the fact that leaves are exhibiting signs of exposure to pollution, even this early, and so after I got home I took a series of photographs of random examples around Wit's End.
Of course, some of the speckling, stippling, discoloration, holes and singed edges may be directly attributable to insects, disease, or fungus (all of which inflict worse damage on plants weakened by air pollution) but even so, the important point is that SO MANY different kinds of leaves are injured.
With the insane weather destroying trees and agricultural crops all over the world, it almost seems pointless to pursue any inquiry into the role ozone plays.  So by way of explanation, here is a catalpa I planted as a tiny twig about five years ago - before I realized the ecosystem is collapsing.  This valiant, stubborn sapling has now grown several feet higher than the 8-foot deer fence behind it.  How can I abandon it, and my other fledgling sycamores, tulip poplars, magnolias, willows, and the nascent orchard?
On their behalf - on the off chance humans will stop being so staggeringly obtuse and asphyxiating them with choking fuel emissions - I have to keep speaking for those trees, suffering in mute torment.
I have seen this remarkable and distinctive pockmarked surface on too many different plants, such as the groundcover above, and below, on peonies, to attribute it to any species-specific plague.
Everything from cultivated clematis to weeds has leaves with suspicious markings.
Below is the horrid, stinging Canadian thistle.
I have never seen hosta leaves look so crumpled and have holes this early.  They are generally relatively impervious to insects.
Rose leaves, always vulnerable, are the worst I've ever seen them.

The Daphne, a source of wondrous scent early in spring, is evergreen further south but loses much of its cover this far north.  That doesn't explain the brown tips however.  Maybe it's this tiny bug!
The Japanese Andromeda outside the kitchen door is speckled as well.
A flowering weed on the patio has yellow spots.

These are all weeds I don't even know the names of.
On the other hand, here are leaves from "volunteer" trees - first, pin oak.
Next, black walnut.
The curly locust leaves are stunted and discolored.
Concord grape.

Another bug!

I almost always plant one or two-year-old seedlings, because bigger trees are expensive.  I did once purchase three large ones to fill in the circle by the barn, though.  The katsura in front of the chicken coop has taken off.
The layers of heartshaped leaves look lovely - a wonderful cool blue I would love to dive into.

But there the good news ends.  This willow oak in front of the paddock fence is missing leaves.
Those that exist are exhibiting an unhealthy mottling.  Even more alarming is the bark on the trunk, which is splitting and corroded with lichen.
The maple a little further down has the same BALDing syndrome (bark atrophy lichen decline).
It's leaves, though not completely robust, wouldn't cause concern to the casual observer.
But the splitting will inevitably allow insects and fungus to invade, which will kill it eventually.
Next on my ramblings I made a detour to walk through the Elizabeth Kay Environmental Center, a nature preserve off an obscure dirt road which, incredibly, I had never thought to visit before.  The Patriot's Path goes through it, but aside from a few backpackers making that journey, it was deserted when I stopped.  I will have to return when I have more time to follow a trail to the Black River Gorge.
The first thing I saw was this maple, smothered in the lichen that has been colonizing trees hereabouts for the past two years in an onslaught so sudden and complete it vies with an alien invasion from a science fiction story.
Naturally, before I even left the parking lot I almost stumbled over a stump.  And immediately in front of me was a tree with its bark peeling off in strips.
Large sections lay on the ground beneath.
The raw red patches are exposed wood.
This huge trunk is so inundated with lichen no bark remains to be seen.  Don't listen to foresters who are basing their opinions on what they learned back when, in school, who insist lichens are harmless.  THIS lichen loves nitrogen, and the artificial nitrogen fertilization in the atmosphere from agricultural, industrial and fuel emission pollution is feeding it to the point where it has gone wild.  I don't know if it adds to the decline of trees, but it certainly is inextricably associated.
This I believe was a summer home for the Kay family.  It now houses meeting rooms.
The patio has a view of a giant meadow, and the woods far beyond.
This sweet little garden is off to the side of the building.
Don't click on that picture of the Kousa dogwood or you'll see that the bracts are stippled.
The leaves of the big oak behind the blue bench are distorted by puckering and discoloration.
This pretty laurel reflects the pink hue of the house, but as you scroll down you can discern the portent in the leaves.

Like the pine at the top of this post, this evergreen shrub has lost almost all of it's multiyear growth, and only pathetic new leaves are as yet un-marred.
On the other side of the house is an enclosed butterfly garden.

There are flowers as would be expected, but the leaves, like the perennial geranium below, show evidence inimical to vigorous growth.
Even the best trees in the distance are thin.  Remember going into the deep shade under the spreading canopy of a tree?  That's been impossible to find anymore.  There are always patches of sun filtering through, so the shelter isn't dark and cool anymore.
Here is a classic sight - an older tree has been removed, and a new one planted in the hopes it will survive.
As I was leaving I passed a mock orange, which possesses one of my favorite garden fragrances.
The native American dogwoods have been decimated by anthracnose.

I didn't recognize this tall shrub but it also has a light and pleasing smell.
I included this picture of a pedestrian to illustrate the girth of the base of this oak.
Looking up, high into the branches, the leaves are beginning to become desiccated and brown.
The exit of the preserve runs through these old stone hedgerows, that made me nostalgic for New England - a New England that, I am certain, no longer exists.
When I stopped to take a picture of the walls, I looked up and again saw the identical shriveling.
This is a phenomena that wasn't widespread until the end of the summer last year.
To have it occur so much earlier is deeply troubling.
What's important - and frightening - to remember is that this is a progressive trend,'s getting worse BY THE DAY.
Here is a cultivated snow on the mountain.
Just another example of leaves with markings that have no explanation other than the rising levels of toxic greenhouse gases.
And here, to go back full circle, is a linden tree at the train station in Peapack, which was all green last week, and then started turning a few days ago.

The leaves aren't just turning brown, they are falling off in bunches.
They are even falling off when they are still green.
If I recall, I predicted in late summer of 2009 that at the rate of loss current then, within two years there won't remain a leaf on a tree in New Jersey.
I may have been off by a month...or even a year.  It doesn't look to be much more than that.  We are already breaking temperature records all over the place - and higher temperatures equal more ozone.  I can see the situation worsening from one day to the next, like watching a child consumed with fever.
Heading back to Wit's End once again, brought me through the village of Pottersville.

Even from a distance, the dying leaves can be observed on this giant.

As in so many places, the dead centuries-old trees in front of the church have been cut down, and replaced.
Just like at Wit's End, the trunks are indicative of inner rot.  This one has a pink lichen I never saw before.  Welcome, opportunistic lichen overlords!  They will help return wood to earth, if it isn't burnt by wildfires first.
I don't think I need to say anything about these leaves.  I often wonder how much more obvious it must become that the ecosystem is collapsing before it is remarked upon by scientists and the media.

At home, an adorable tiny bird has nested in this box, which hangs from the storage shed eave - which I had thought of as purely decorative.  The entry is only about an inch wide.
The mother is very shy and hides from the camera, so I first got a glimpse of a disgruntled catbird.
Here's mom.  She has a distinctive, disapproving, trilling chirp to warn me away from her brood.  Or maybe she was just crying in despair.
I am so worried about her little family.  I haven't heard their lively voracious cheeps for the past two days.  How can they survive being baked alive in this appalling 102 degrees?  I am afraid to peek inside.


  1. Jesus, Gail, ever since you posted that picture of the mermaid, that's all I can see now. You shouldn't do that to a man who's not yet Low T.

  2. Ha yeah, pretty hot right? And politically correct too, a perfect combination.

  3. When I read the title I immediately thought of the picture you posted a while back of the guy in the full length fur coat getting into his big shiny Hummer.

  4. Dion, that idiot in the coat isn't sleeping. Terri Schiavo, before her breathing and feeding tube were removed, had a greater capacity for understanding this than did Mr. Teeny Peeny in the fur.

  5. damn.. it's so much worse in new jersey than here.. it's like you're at the epicenter of the die-off. It looks bad but I don't think you're going to be completely leafless in a new jersey in a month or even a year.. but in 5-10 I think it's possible.

  6. It's hard to say. I doubt this summer, although literally every day, new bare branches appear - and it's only the middle of quite a cool, wet season other than two wickedly hot but very brief spells.

    If we get a protracted, searing drought, the leaves will be fluttering like snow from the trees.


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