Shawnee News-Star Sunday August 5th 2018 Becky Emerson Carlberg Poems are compact stories.   'Little Ruth' discovered by Bob Allison was written over a century ago.   Was this condensed account (published in 1896) of a little girl told to go out and play on Thanksgiving Day and her disappearance a personal memory of the author, Mabelle […]

Shawnee News-Star Sunday August 5th 2018

Sycamore bench in the Japanese Garden

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Poems are compact stories.   'Little Ruth' discovered by Bob Allison was written over a century ago.   Was this condensed account (published in 1896) of a little girl told to go out and play on Thanksgiving Day and her disappearance a personal memory of the author, Mabelle Knowlton?   Nothing else could I find written by this woman of mystery.

The short poem 'Trees' was composed by Joyce Kilmer while living in Mahwah, New Jersey.   He was inspired by the wooded hill he could see through the window from his upstairs room on February 2nd 1913. Kilmer (1886-1918) was a writer, poet and popular lecturer from a distinguished family. His mom was a poet and songwriter.   His father was a physician and analytical chemist for Johnson and Johnson Company who invented baby powder.   Joyce composed many works but enlisted in the NY National Guard, April 1917, at the beginning of World War I.   His life was cut short by a sniper's bullet during the Second Battle of the Marne, France, in 1918.  He was thirty one years old.

Kilmer loved the beauty of nature. Most people have heard the first two lines of 'Trees':   I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.   But it continues: A tree whose hungry mouth is prest     Against the Earth's sweet flowing breast;   A tree that looks at God all day,   And lifts her leafy arms to pray;     A tree that may in summer wear     A nest of robins in her hair;   Upon whose bosom snow has lain;   And intimately lives with rain.     Poems are made by fools like me,   But only God can make a tree.

The 'Trees' poem does anthropomorphize trees, but then the Bambi effect makes it more personal and relatable to those unfamiliar with nature's sentries.   I love trees.   To embrace trees means to embrace nature.   Thing about nature is she can be painfully honest, raw, brutal and beautiful.

Beaver vs. Cottonwood

Save the cottonwood.   From the beaver.   Two of nature's own have locked horns in combat.   The cottonwood is probably fifty feet tall and a canopy about as wide.   The North American beaver is the second largest rodent in the world.   The herbivore is restricted to Canada, parts of the US and two states in Mexico.   The beaver is small compared to the largest rodent, the Capybara, which lives in every country of South America except Chili. Our beaver can reach 3 feet in length and tip the scales at 60 pounds, while the Capybara can grow to 4.4 feet, the size of a small sheep, and weigh up to 150 pounds.  Both these guys are just babies compared to a rodent whose skull was discovered embedded in a boulder in Uruguay.   This giant lived probably 4 million years ago and was the size of a bull, weighing over 2,500 pounds.   Imagine the size of the teeth.


Cottonwood wound sealed…for the time being

Both present-day rodents are semi-aquatic, have webbed feet, front teeth that continuously grow and water-repellent fur.   The Capybara does not have a paddle tail but uses its partially webbed toes like little paddles.   The beaver uses its paddle as a kick stand to give it support while chewing on cottonwoods (willows, alders, maples and cherry trees) or to slap the surface of water as a warning.   Beavers can live twenty-five years in the wild, but coyotes, bobcats, bear, otters and horned owls find beaver delicious.  Capybara have shorter lives, from four to twelve years, but are relished by Jaguars and other wild cats, caimans (crocodile relatives) and Anacondas.   Nature in action.

So. this innocent cottonwood (Populus deltoides) was minding its own business growing happily near a pond by the road when a beaver (Castor canadensis) decided this tree could be conquered. Beavers are second only to humans in skillfully recreating and rebuilding their environment. I'm thinking the rodent was going for a Hoover dam wood equivalent.   The beaver had chewed into the heartwood, leaving piles of chips around the base of the trunk.   The future of the cottonwood looked bleak if the chopping or chipping or girdling (the bark chipped off in a ring around the tree trunk) continued.   Its food, and no doubt water, supply lines would all be cut.

Idea.   Would tree sealant discourage the ambitious beaver?   One can of pruning seal was secured.  The product is a pressurized solution that can waterproof clay pots, gutters, wooden planters and even asphalt driveways.   Note: pruning sealers should not be used on trees with fresh cuts after branch removals, trunk injuries or pruning jobs.  The sealer invites infection and moisture retention that leads to wood rot and happy fungi.   Leave it to the tree to heal itself naturally.

The beaver problem was a different kettle of fish, or rodents. Fearlessly the spray was thickly applied into and around the deep wound.   Maybe it would taste as bad as it smelled.   Goal:   deter the eager beaver.  Time will tell if the tree goes down.

Strong winds from two weeks ago did bring down several Black Locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia) growing within fencerows.   One in particular was not ready to give up the ghost.   It laid on the ground for days, focusing its remaining energies into producing clusters of white flowers typically only accomplished in the spring.   Before the blooms dried up, they were visited by several bees and butterflies.

The unloved Sycamore trees (Platanus occidentalis) the homeowner wanted gone.   What is wrong with people that must cut down great trees?   Why don't they move to western OK or TX? Don't have to worry about big trees out there.   Some places consider established trees very valuable and even treat them as historical monuments to be respected and nurtured. Not here.   Established, strong, well-shaped trees with spreading canopies were dismembered. Large sections of trunks were left lying on the ground. What a waste. The trees would be honored if I could somehow have the trunks moved into the Japanese Peace Garden (JPG).

Thanks to the city, two trunks were hauled into the Heart of the JPG and installed as natural benches.   The rounded cylinders are the right height for sitting. Never fear, nature is here. Dead wood is not meant to last forever and soon shelf fungi appeared.   The brackets look rather cool growing at the bottom of each trunk where they touch moist soil.   These tough fungi are also woody in nature, but it will only be a matter of time before the logs deteriorate.   For now, the sycamore seats work.

Last gasp: Blooms on fallen Black Locust

Ogden Nash updated Joyce Kilmer's 'Trees' poem.   Published on October 15th 1932, Nash's rendition was called 'Song of the Open Road':

I think that I shall never see

A billboard lovely as a tree.

Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,

I'll never see a tree at all.

You know, Ogden was ahead of his time.   Just look along the byways and highways.