Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Cascara Your Fate To The Wind

We've discussed this before. There are people who worry about every little thing and fret their lives away only to find the thing they worry about doesn't come to pass. Although this is probably because they did something about it. And there are people who don't worry about anything and live lives filled with joy and happiness and then pay someone ten grand to rebuild the side of their house, not that I'm naming any names.

I have been aware, however, that the cascara tree just outside my writing room window has been dying for several years, and in fact now sports only a cowlick of a living portion arising from one live branch on an otherwise dead trunk. Let it be noted I also knew that the base of the tree is split and a good three-quarters of it is heading north, i.e. toward my window. And at a fair clip.

So it's not that I didn't know. The thing is, like any other person fond of birds, I do not consider my nearly dead tree to lack value. It is perfectly clear that many, many people find it very valuable indeed, if by "people" you mean "birds." Our chief chickadee Studley Windowson considers it his home base, and like the nuthatches and scrub jays, has been studding the bark with sunflower seeds all summer. I don't know who gets to harvest, but it's a laudable enterprise with winter coming.

Other than that, the tree is ugly as hell, from a human standpoint. It looks like it was designed by a drunken menorah maker. Branches curve out from the base and verticals soar up from them. Whereas Studley has been observed to light on any available twig, he does favor a certain few. These days he lands in them specifically to stare at me and chip-chip while I'm at my laptop until I put one finger up, run down to the fridge for the mealworms, and pop back, where he is waiting patiently for me to open the window. He will come for a worm, fly back to a branch, pin the worm down with his foot, and nip off bite-sized segments like a gentleman sawing a steak. If he had a napkin, he'd tuck it under his chin, if he had a chin. If he had a pinky, he'd hold it out.

The upshot of all this is that although I know the tree is destined to crumble away, and not necessarily in a tidy or insurable fashion, I am fine with leaving its ugly self be, where Studley and the woodpeckers and bushtits can do their things. So this is where denial starts to play a role. I want the tree to stay, so I will it upright, mentally.

It was only a month or two ago that I noticed I had to tilt my head to walk the path next to it. I wasn't sure, but it seemed possible I'd been doing that all along, right? A few weeks later, I was actually ducking. Hmm, thought I. That seems new. Last week I had to crouch to get under it. Upstairs, when I looked out at all the verticals in the crown of the tree, they were diagonal. I finally put three and four together and sent Dave out with a pruning saw. "Just take a little weight off of it," I said, as though he were my hairdresser. "I want to keep as much as possible for Studley and the gang."

Note Diagonalness
Which he did. However he shook the tree enough in the process that it's a good foot and a half closer to my window now. "Try not to pull the whole tree down," I distinctly remember instructing, which shouldn't be necessary, but I've seen him do that before. He can pull down a tree. I suspect I'm going to have to take the whole thing down after all, except for the one live bit coming out the middle. I have two apprentice cascaras growing up through it. They're eager enough, but they're several years away from getting journeyman height to them. I don't know what to say to Studley. I don't know if anyone is going to want to rent the birdhouse next spring with nothing to land in nearby. It's a sad day in the bird real estate world.

23 comments:

  1. Dead wood is indeed a precious resource for wildlife, from fungi to invertebrates and on up the ladder. I appreciate that you'd prefer for it to be standing dead wood, for Studley's sake. And although it may not be much of a consolation for Studley and Marge, even a pile of logs will surely present foraging opportunities?

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    1. Plus of course I'm keeping up the Mealworm Express.

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  2. I know. I've cried copious amounts of tears over having to cut down trees that were obviously leaning toward the house. As big as the pines were, they would have not only taken out a sizable chunk of the house, it would have rendered it uninhabitable and sent us to a motel... IF we survived. (Our bed would have been in its path.) A couple thousand to cut them down was cheap compared to the cost of rebuilding the house, and possibly DYING. I still cringe when I see the spaces that they left.

    As to your and the Windowson's situation, I have an idea for a replacement "tree": You know how people like to put tree corpses in their livingrooms during the winter holidays? They usually leave them out on the curb for the trash collector afterwards (at least around here). Just gather up a whole bunch of them and configure them into one massive gestalt tree. You're artistic and imaginative; you can pull this off. It may look odd to the neighbors, but I'm sure both of us have had neighbors who questioned our aesthetic sensibilities. It may even look odd to the Windowsons. But they will get over it once they check it out and deem it safe. Just keep flaming objects away from it or you may need home reparation for an entirely different reason.

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    1. So many things we do and have done look odd to the neighbors. But we have seniority around here and are of the age we can be rightly considered eccentric. Not to say dotty.

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  3. It is strange or maybe not. We become so used to things .... old dead branches, trees whatever .. that when they are removed we miss them. Something doesn't seem right.

    That is why I leave the calamity of clutter of my computer room just as it is. Even the little spiders that dwell there are fine.

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    1. I need to figure out how to encourage my tenant spiders away from the smoke detectors IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.

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  4. The trick is to keep planting new trees. Plant at least one a year. Then it's no trouble to remove any single one, because they others will shoot up overnight.
    Figure out what a good replacement for the cascara is, and plant two of those right under it. In two or three years, they'll entirely envelop the cascara and will provide not just a perching place, but perhaps food and shelter as well, depending on the variety you plant.

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    1. As a matter of fact, I repositioned two small cascaras on either side of the trunk of this one a couple years ago. They're about four feet high now. The tree threw off a bunch of seedlings as it was dying.

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  5. When the cascara starts knocking on your window you will know it's time to trim a little more. It is nice to have a few snags around for the critters, just not too close to the house.

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    1. So what I'm thinking is it really will "knock" on the windows. It's so close to the house now that I think it will sort of slouch or slump against it in a good wind, but not crash into it. That's why I'm keeping what's left. I think also that it is entirely possible I am WAY understimating the potential damage. Stay tuned!

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  6. Studley seems a pragmatic sort. He'll probably just shrug his birdy shoulders, if he had shruggers, and think, "There goes the neighborhood." And he'd be right.

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  7. Oh no! And what about Studley's winter pantry? Can you cut down the tree but leave the carcass lying in a corner of your yard? It will eventually compost, which I don't even know why I felt I had to say that because you already know it, but still.

    We had to say goodbye to a nice maple a couple of years ago. It was threatening our vehicles and the neighbours house, and we were just lucky none of the branches that had already come down hadn't touched anything of importance. Sometimes it has to be done.

    Well done training Studley to come for mealworms - maybe that will see him through the winter.

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    1. I think he'll be here all winter, although I've never studied it for myself, because I didn't have a reliable method of determining who Studley was until now. (He's the one who comes to my hand, and that's how you tell, if you can't see his bum foot.)

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  8. Can you prop it up with something sturdy until the new trees are large enough to be acceptable to Studley? I hate seeing trees come down, I'd much prefer a good trimming just to keep branches off the house.

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    1. Really, the entire thing is leaning toward the house from a very serious crack in the base of it. I mean, when you can see it inch toward you in real time, it's hard to deny...

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  9. I wonder if "diagonalness" will make it into Websters? I think it should.

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  10. I have a gorgeous cork screw willow that is dying along the side driveway. Chunks come down during ice and snow and there is a huge fungus thing at its base. I cannot bear to just take it out. It is so beautiful against the sky no matter what the color... so I just add a bird house and wait. I have so over planted trees around here I only hope that when they have to start coming out I will be long gone....

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  11. Go all Japanese Gardener on it. There's nothing more Zen than a rotten, falling apart tree in your garden. Bind and wrap the crap out of the splitting trunk with burlap and then prop it up in the opposite direction of the house/window with notched 1x6 cedar boards. (Secure the boards so a gust of wind can't blow them away.) Time honoured technique for keeping a 9/10ths dead tree still standing. Some gardeners actually stripped big sections of bark (and leaves) off healthy trees to utilize this technique. There has to be a Zen quotation about the value of that but I'll be switched if I can remember one.

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    1. Man, that sounds like a project. I should show you the bottom part of this tree. I don't think it's wrappable!

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