Farewell, Old Friends

JustBob had a very difficult meeting last week. It was one of those “you know what needs to be done but it doesn’t make it any easier” kind of meetings. […]

JustBob had a very difficult meeting last week. It was one of those “you know what needs to be done but it doesn’t make it any easier” kind of meetings. Bill, the forester, was here to give JustBob advice regarding which trees in the woods need to be cut down, so that JustBob could pass those recommendations along to Jackie K. and the Board of Directors. For two days, JustBob and Bill walked through every inch of our woods so Bill could assess the condition of each and every tree.

Bill tells us that some of the trees, like the four basswood trees behind the solar panels, have outlived their expected life. At least three of those trees show signs of disease and bug infestation. They are not dead yet, but they are not likely to live even ten more years. Worse, if we do nothing, because of the trees’ weakened condition, we risk them being blown over in a storm. The one closest to the building is over 100 feet tall and less than 60 feet away from the northeast corner of our building. That means the wrong storm could put the tree into rooms 76, 78, 79 and 80, as well as the Library and Pillow Room below. The largest branch could break off and hit that corner of the building as well and cause considerable damage. Another possibility for any of these four trees, if they are blown down, would be to fall on our solar panel array. As much as they will be missed, sooner or later it seems we will have to say farewell to these old friends who have been here nearly 100 years. Obviously, as hard as it would be to say goodbye, it would be better to do so at a time of our choosing rather than Mother Nature’s.

There are more trees in the woods that are already dead or are dying because of old age, disease or insect infestation. Some of these trees may be more than 100 years old, but taking them down now will allow the young saplings around them the opportunity to thrive. Doing nothing stunts the growth of the younger trees, and risks losing both healthy and diseased trees in a storm if the old trees fall on and damage the younger trees. In a few cases, a healthy tree will need to be taken down in order to safely remove the diseased or dead trees nearby, but those are rare exceptions.

Another necessity to help our woods grow healthy and strong is to remove the invasive species like buckthorn. What looks like verdant undergrowth is actually threatening the well-being of our woods. Bill said ours is the worst case of buckthorn infestation he has ever seen in his 40+ years as a forester. JustBob and his volunteers have been trying to clean out the buckthorn, but having the big equipment on site will allow us to clear it out quicker and more efficiently.

The good news is, most of the trees do not need to be cut down, so there will be plenty remaining to provide shade for guests and shelter for critters. The bad news is, our woods have been neglected for far too long. Thinning the woods now will give young saplings the opportunity to grow stronger and healthier in the space left vacant, even though the trees that need to come down will be missed and will leave a noticeable void in our woods for a few years. Still, I do not envy the choices facing our leadership to make the final decisions on which trees stay and which trees need to be sacrificed. It is hard to say farewell to such old friends as these.

Once the Board makes its decision, the logging work should start sometime in the next few weeks. Some of the trees will be removed for pulpwood, others will be left to be cut up for firewood, and still others will be left on the forest floor to provide shelter for small animals and eventually return their nutrients to Mother Earth. The trees that can be used for firewood will remain in the woods until JustBob and his crew can get them cut up over the fall and winter. In spring, the loggers will return to clean out the stumps and buckthorn.

As difficult as it will be to say farewell to these old friends, our goal is to manage our woods in a way that meets the needs of the present without harming the wildlife that depend on them, negatively impacting the environment or compromising the future well-being of the woods. We want to encourage the growth of a variety of trees and manage them in a sustainable fashion for decades or centuries to come. Thinning early in forest growth creates tougher trees that can better endure storms, insects and disease. Thinning needs to happen regularly, before trees start to fight over water and light, so every ten years or so, we will need to do more logging, but the trees that remain will be stronger and healthier.

For the leaders who are responsible for the well-being of our woods, the knowledge of experts to guide us in making hard choices, and for all the blessings our old friends have offered us over the years, we say Deo Gratias, and farewell, old friends!

Are you ready to join us?

St. Anthony's welcomes YOU!