Tuesday, April 21, 2015

This Petty Place

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.  Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Handprints in the El Castillo cave in Cantabria, Spain, made 40,000 years ago

Although there is much new in science to add to the saga of tree decline due to air pollution, the convulsing pace of climate disruption - and the convincing evidence that it is too late to do much about it, even if there were a collective willingness to do so, which there isn't - tends to make premature tree mortality less and less relevant.  There are three numbing trends that I find especially overwhelming, because they are threatening in the extreme, and have lately been deemed irreversible.

One, is the melting of Arctic, and the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, until recently predicted to be stable for another hundred years or so.  Two, is the related slowdown of the AMOC - the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation - and its likely role in the frigid cold that has yet to completely relent to spring on the US East Coast, where I live...with the prospect that it is going to continue for the foreseeable future...as is Three - the California drought.

Of course I know there are so many other existential threats, all around the world - drought in Brazil, melting glaciers, ocean acidification, climate refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, deforestation, sea level rise, habitat destruction and wild endangered animal poaching, economic collapse, war, and much, much more - but those three are the ones that are closest and most paralyze me with stark dread.

Even so, I feel obligated to record the mounting death toll from falling trees, since nobody else will.  Literally, no insurance company or government agency maintains statistics tracking deaths and injuries from fallen trees.  Why?  Because it almost never used to happen.  I noticed there have been several fatalities recently, and anticipate it will become a noticeable pattern in the not-to-distant future.

High winds are normally fingered as the culprit when trees fall, blocking roads and causing property damage, power outages, and personal injury - even when they obviously have holes in their trunks, a sure indicator of interior and root rot, like this specimen that toppled in Tennessee Sunday night.

In their report, the Weather Channel blamed "straight-line winds" for two fatal tree falls - even though there was no wind.  One article about the incidents described them as "freak accidents":

"Two freak accidents involving falling trees, some 460 miles and hours apart, claimed the lives of two women in Cincinnati and Atlanta over the weekend, officials said."

The greenish grey lichen, a pervasive indicator of decline, is visible in photographs.

In video of a news interview, a witness to the April 19 incident in Bond Hill said the tree should have been cut down.

"Witnesses said the tree uprooted and fell across four lanes of Reading Road. There was no warning the tree was going to fall."

"'I saw when the tree came out the ground. The lady was doing her regular speed limit on the street. You just had an old tree that was there that needed to be cut down. If you look at it you could tell that it was dry-rotted,' witness Mannie Everage said."

The second victim was a 60 year old school teacher, who died when a tree fell on her Atlanta home. Again, there was no storm or wind at the time.

Thunderstorms and wind were blamed for downed trees in Birmington, although the photograph featured in the news story reveals a severely rotted tree.

Another tree featured in the news for this time period, this one in East Point, is also clearly rotted.

Last week, a tree crushed a home in Marietta, trapping two women for hours as firefighters labored to cut them free of debris.  One was airlifted to the hospital.  There didn't seem to be any connection to wind, according to neighbors who listened helplessly to the screams of the victims.

Earlier this month another fatality occurred in Kentucky.

"The severe weather was blamed for the death of 45-year-old Catherine Carlson, who was camping with family at the Natural Bridge State Resort Park in eastern Kentucky early Friday...A massive tree limb hit their tent, killing Carlson and injuring her husband but leaving their three children unscathed. Brian Carlson, 46, was taken to a hospital in critical condition."

Images of fallen trees that are rotted can easily be found in media from many places of our dwindling biosphere, Earth.  This accident occurred in Poland:

 ...and this one in Moscow:

Expect the carnage - and the wildfires - to accelerate until there are no trees left to burn.


  1. Thanks for being a witness, Gail. Hard to believe these times we are in.....

  2. Since finding your blog, I pay close attention to tree health when walking in the woods. I see lots of apparently sick trees but have no personal memory of whether there is a trend. Every chance I get I ask old timers here on Vancouver Island if they are observing any trends. So far, I have been unable to confirm or deny your theory in this location but will keep trying.

    1. Thanks for looking Rob! Sometimes I will hear that none of this can be proved because there is no "control group" - but there is, in fact, a control group - which is all the millions upon millions of trees who used to live to what was really old age - hundreds of years old - but no longer do. There are all sorts of historical records to verify that the natural lifespan of tree species that are now dying at age 10, 50 or 100 was normally centuries.

      People forget so easily, and unless you are deliberately paying attention, it's simple to ignore the loss of something when goes incrementally - like the gradual loss of wildflowers, or the silencing of bird song.

    2. Yes, even the old stumps bear witness.. because there are no current trees (even dead standing-but-rotted-out ones) that anywhere reach their circumference!!
      Most trees dying today are relatively quite young, from what I have seen.

    3. They replace the young flowering ornamental trees in shopping centers every 3 years or so now, and in between they amputate the branches to force some growth.

  3. at least some of them are hitting cars....

    1. I have to admit I love the poetic justice there!

    2. http://www.wnyc.org/story/happy-earth-day-were-all-doomed/

    3. yer welcome

    4. This comment echos my own experience - I think about it every morning when I wake in the spring, how it used to be an enormous almost deafening (but beautiful) chorus of all sorts of songs that woke me at dawn no matter how much I wanted to sleep longer, and now, just the isolated individual call. A stunning difference...

      Rose from NY, NY
      We've been going to upstate NY Northern Catskills for 25 years to a spot that is an old farm with fields, woods, and a pond. We usually went up the first on Memorial Day weekend. My husband had one of the first digital recorders then and took some recording of the birds in the early morning. In the morning the birds we so loud, so many, it was like a jungle, it was hard to distinguish, it woke you up. Just amazing. Now it is so few, you can distinguish the birds. I've noticed t his for over 10 years. We listen to that recording and it makes me sad.

  4. I wonder about the impact, in our lifetimes, of a more than doubling of the world's living human population. With a constant rate of tree falls, the probability that one will hit a human?

    1. Of course, that could be a factor, the same as more human population means more people will be in earthquakes, be hit by lightening, or in the way of a tornado, etc.

      That doesn't explain trees rotting and dying prematurely, however.

  5. Beautiful and heartbreaking as usual, Gail.

  6. Notice that there is no root ball on any of the trees that show the bottom. Those trees have been "dead" for some time. I am astounded to even see leaves on some. The only thing living on many is a thin ring of sap wood surrounding a rotten core. Folks would be wise to take core samples of neighboring trees for their own safety.

  7. So according to your article, we can't expect to see tall trees replaced when they fall, because none will make it to the age it takes to grow to that height.
    Sad. All of it.


  8. Gail, we had a bit of wind and a power outage of the whole town for several hours yesterday (I assume due to a downed tree). On a non-FB social media site I happened to find these comments, one from a person near me in VT and the second from someone elsewhere in NE (Maine, I believe):

    "There are trees crashing down all around me tonight - I’ve counted at least five. Nothing has hit the house, but I don’t want to check the fence or vehicles until daylight - there’s nothing I can do anyway. We’ve had rain since sundown, and the wind blew up about 2-3 hours ago. When things started crashing down, sleep was over. The dogs and my son are contentedly snoring away. I should have knit my socks, but this sort of storm energy doesn’t work for concentrating…."

    "Oy…..it was screaming windy here last night too….I haven’t been out yet to see the damage. I’ve had several trees come down in the pasture this winter…but can’t do much cleanup yet, the ground is too wet, and it continues to rain, all this week they are saying. I’m just glad to hear none of those falling trees have hit your house."

  9. Here's a tip!
    "the neighbors pack chainsaws with them in these sorts of storms"

    1. There are many, many trees where I live and at any given moment I can hear chainsaws, somewhere. I HATE it!

  10. @ RobM: My eldest son lives in Vancouver since 4 years and tells me the trees have been getting very sick very fast in those years.

    Every morning, even before I open my eyes, I ask myself, How am I going to get through this day? I cannot pursue what I love because I do not have any means. And I can hardly go outside because the air is so foul, it makes me sick. + the trees are in such a bad shape, it makes me cry. So I just sit in front of my computer all day, burning coal surfing from site to site in search of nothing in particular, since I already know all I have to know. But there is nothing else I could do, besides sitting all day in silence without the computer, waiting for the end.

    I found things I wrote 5 years ago and it made me feel like those 5 years were one day, or one hour, just a blur. I was already then at the same place I am now. I can't figure how I manage to survive in this state of mind. The most difficult part is keeping a front for my sons (which I still can do!) and help them survive without a future, because I am the one who gave them birth and I do not know what else to do.

    Even if it makes me sick to write these sad messages, I indulge from time to time, just to egoistically take a tiny bit of pressure of my heart. Sorry.

    1. I know, Michele! I cannot believe I have been writing the same stuff since 2008. Back then I said that, based on how quickly trees were dying, we would soon see unprecedented wildfires, and trees falling on people and houses and cars. It seemed outlandish then - and now, it is happening, but still very few people put it all together. I love this cartoon by Stephanie McMillan, and just thing it is from 2010, and how many disasters have happened in the interim. Never underestimate the human capacity for denial! - http://www.stephaniemcmillan.org/codegreen/2010/06/21/almost-there/


  11. Aloha Gail,

    Here in Honolulu we are losing all our earpods: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enterolobium_cyclocarpum. The great earpod on the Keeaumoku side of the Department of Agriculture building grounds was taken out two summers ago. It had the interior rot. Presently the first earpod planted, by Dr. W. Hillebrand, located in the grounds of Foster Botanical Garden is dying of interior rot. I have been trying find out how long earpods are suppose to live. None of our trees are older then one hundred and fifty years old.

    Interestingly, earpods are ecologically anachronistic. As it says in wikipedia:

    the tough-coated .... seeds do not begin to grow unless their protective covers are punctured in some way. This may be an adaptation designed to keep the seeds from germinating while still in the pods at the start of the rainy season - and very likely still underneath the parent tree after having fallen from its crown. With more time to find them, foraging ground sloths (and other extinct mammals) could eat the pods and transport the seeds to a new site. The resulting mastication and digestion of the fruits would induce seed coat abrasion, which would help seed germination.

    So it is the same old story. First they gobbled up all the ground sloths. Then a whole bunch of destructive stuff happens. Finally, they generate so much tropospheric ozone pollution that the trees who's seeds the ground sloths help germinate die. End of story.

    Mahalo nui loa for continuing to bear witness.


    1. Well damn add another species to the list, thanks for telling me about it Lucas. Much like to osage orange tree - we have been messing with the balance of the ecosystem, indirectly and directly, ever since we climbed out of trees, lit fire, and traveled out of Africa.

  12. Thank you ever so terribly much Gail for the link to Wrong Kind Of Green.
    Someone has to expose Klein and McKibben for the charlatans they really are.

    You can get your Collapse Data Cheat Sheet here:

  13. all the radioactivity (particles of all sorts) on the soil and the trees will be released in the atmosphere:

    1. Oh my! Video at the RT site is amazing - http://rt.com/news/253897-chernobyl-fires-rage-ukraine/

      "It is under control" LOL

  14. Thanks for yet another great post Gail! I've always loved those hands; seeming both haunting and jovial, not to mention perfectly familiar despite the ~11 thousand year generation gap. I wonder if that was their way of taking a family portrait. How different would our perception of ourselves to our environment be if family portraits included ancestors further removed than the grandparents? Inseparable maybe. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cueva_de_las_Manos

    More victims of our foul and pestilent congregation of vapors:


    1. Thanks, Josh - I stand corrected - I had thought that cave was in Spain. I doubt connection with ancestors would change behavior although I love wandering around cemeteries and have always wished there was one where I could visit family members. But deep connections with past generations didn't make Europeans or the Chinese exactly cherish the environment!

      At least that article about the Harvard Forest mentioned pollution. Here's why I don't buy the "invasive species" issue - well, for one thing, the bark beetle isn't invasive, but the wooley adelgid is. So, it supposedly arrived from Japan in the 1950's - almost 60 years ago. If it is simply that it has no predators, why this: "I've gone from very, very rarely seeing adelgid in 2002 to utter destruction," said Mr. Blozan, a former National Parks Service employee. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/150402-forest-die-off-climate-harvard-hemlocks-global-warming/

      People have been importing nursery stock, lumber and other tree products for hundreds of years, bringing alien species with them. Why is it only recently that invasives have exploded? Plus, the hemlocks are dying everywhere, including around where I live, and there are very few, if any, wooley adelgids to be seen. Same for the ash - they are all dying, but the emerald beetle has yet to arrive here, so they say they are "diseased".

    2. human population has doubled in our lifetime..therefore, human consumption of natural resources also have followed suit..with daily tonnage of wooden goods coming in at ever increasing pace, no care is given to insect or fungus import..so travels decimation, infestation and pestilence; wherever man moves, destruction shall be served on a pallet of doom. i often wish for material to be so expensive that mass consumerism would slow to a reasonable rate..every ash tree in our small midwest town bears signs of insect damage..this latest storm system has caused much tree fall as well.

    3. I've seen some photos of rotted, fallen trees, from the midwest - planning to post them sometime soon.

  15. michele/montrealMay 4, 2015 at 1:36 PM

    I really have the impression of being on another planet. The veil of "gazes" (everywhere) is so thick that all the colors, the textures, the feeling, everything, is utterly strange and alarming. And all everybody has to say (including my son who just woke up) is: Beautiful weather today. If the end of the world does not happen before July, I will burn coal to make a video of the trees in montreal when my son takes the plane to visit from Vancouver. The wind will very soon take a lot of big branches and whole trees down. In fact, I don't know howcome they still hold to the trees.

    1. It is soooo quiet here, Michele. Hardly any birds. A lot of people are noticing it. The wild watercress hasn't grown in the spring where I usually collect it, at all - it has just vanished.

  16. i got good news and bad news.

    The good news is that there are 8 - 10 large blue jays, a nice sized family of cardinals, lots of robins, crows in abundance, hawks, sparrows, little birds i haven't identified yet, morning doves, and a few others that visit my bird feeders and yard every day. They make my day and i won't do any yard work there until they all stop feeding (early morning to early afternoon, generally).

    Here's the bad news:

    Drought in California kills 12 million trees since last year

    and they aren't doing all that well here either: very lightly leafing-out compared to years past, lots of bare crowns, toppled over dead ones or others that have lost large branches, emaciated pines, even my holly bushes look almost dead. There's lichen everywhere, many trees have holes or weeping sections, and i've even seen stands of bamboo that look dead.

    Accompanying them are the dead critters on the sides of the roads (or their remains, or a blood-stained spot on the road). Deer, woodchucks, ground hogs, cats, fox, even birds.

    The cold winter lead to a below average temp spring until May, now it's suddenly as much above average as it was below.

    Be well, michele and gail.


  17. Today's bit of evidence that humanity is doing its best to kill itself off: [though it's filed under Disasters, i could equally be headed Crime]

    Massive tree-thinning project in northern Arizona is largest of its kind in US Forest Service



  18. My financial advice since 2009 - invest in tree removal equipment.

  19. michele/montrealMay 8, 2015 at 2:42 PM

    I can feel the earth crust moving under all the stresses, among them, emptying the first hundreds meters of table water, oil, gas all over the globe, droughts and floods, the unfathomable quantities of ice melting and subsequent upheavals in hydrology (the whole cycle of water), the normal movement of the living crust, + much more. Is it going to be new york? tokyo? shangai? miami? which will go first? which nuclear power plant will go next? indian point? some obscure plant in armenia or tadjikistan? one that will be disabled by not enough water to cool, a ruptured dam, an earthquake, an accident? when will enough humans fry in unlivable temperatures with the grid down (it has happen, but not on a scale to stop humanity in its tracks, like millions).

    I sit on my balcony on the 3rd floor, I look at the wires and transformers and poles. and I see the total fragility of this life support system that can all be completely destroyed in minutes...

    the planet is so strong and was so awesome. will never know what will come next.

  20. Just another tree falling:

    Massive tree crashes down in Anaheim neighborhood

    [short video]


    1. Well now, if that isn't just perfect! What, no wind?

  21. talking about indian point:
    Cuomo said there had been too many emergencies recently involving Indian Point.

    so do I...

  22. I didn't have time to put up a special welcome/post to listeners (yet) from ExtinctionRadio.com where I was interviewed this week - because I am visiting middle daughter for a Mother's Day steeplechase race and have been cooking like mad. But it's airing now - a post will be up tomorrow, or the next day...http://extinctionradio.com/

  23. What Global Warming for Old Tall Trees

    As climate change drives up global temperature and increases the frequency of intense droughts, the world’s oldest, biggest trees might be the most vulnerable, according to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change.



    1. I have written to those researchers years ago to tell them 1. trees are ALREADY dying off and 2. they are dying in places that aren't in drought and 3. they are dying in places that haven't warmed enough to put them outside of their natural range. But I guess they would rather continue collecting funds to study future climate impacts.


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