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Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Fired up

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
Plains Coreopsis

Freddy the fox says “People are like Bermuda grass.  They spread out where they’re not wanted and try to take over”.  My philosophy is to borrow the land wherever I live and hand it back in better shape when I leave.  Generations of wildlife (turkeys, foxes, birds…..) have lived right outside my door.  Somebody has to help the native wildlife and provide them safe haven.  Why we planted 450 trees on five acres and mow narrow paths instead of huge swathes.   

Less trees, more grass

My nice neighbors on acreages intrigue me.  They are like cigarette smokers.  When one fires up a cigarette, all smokers light up.  When one fires up a lawnmower, all start mowers and off they go like Pavlov’s dogs.  A quiet peaceful morning turned into a cacophony of noise filled with roars and rumbling low vibrations, the sound of an approaching tornado or tanks traveling across the fields.  For hours.

Mowing growing grass is a necessary evil.  Grasses are geared to grow when conditions are right. If shrubs, trees and wildflowers were strategically arranged and planted within these large mowed tracks, my neighbors might spend less time, money and fuel.  Nature would benefit and the beauty of their landscapes would be enhanced. Problem is they just can’t see past the grass to a world filled with flowers and trees, birds and bees.

Trees nearby are now being cleared, fully leafed out and loaded with sap.  Since they are using a bulldozer to do their dirty work, the trees are being ripped out and sawed into large sections, not for firewood, but burned on site.  Compounding the issue are nine large oaks around the house have died from Hypoxylon Canker.  The family had built a carport, one large garage and constructed an addition to the house.  The trees didn’t like this, became stressed, went into decline, and have been dropping like flies one after another.  Oaks 50 to 100 years old.

Less trees, more stuff

Hypoxylon Canker is serious stuff.  The Biscogniauxia atropunctatum fungus is opportunistic.  It should not bother healthy trees, yet a chain of events is set in motion as trees die.  Trees communicate chemically through the interlacing fungal networks around their roots as well as emitting pheromones into the air.  Damage by construction and soil compaction cause trees to send stress signals picked up by other trees and passed along.  As the heavy equipment moves through the robust stand of trees, other trees will be damaged and exposed to fungal spores and the vicious cycle will continue.  The treeless house on the hill is surrounded by ghosts.

Is it a far stretch to think trees are homes for spirits?  We think our bodies are homes for spirits. Let nature envelope you.  To see the birds, hear the cicadas, and listen to frogs sing from the trees in summer is awesome. Wildlife vanish as trees were torn out along the rural road and trees cut down to open more pastureland for grass and trees cleared for development.  Trees are sound barriers, homes, mediators of temperature and moisture, stabilizers, feeding stations and the most powerful lungs on the earth. Seems that the 25% of the genes we share with trees did not include concern or worry.  What will it take to save the trees?

Coreopsis before being mowed that afternoon

“The Overstory”, the twelfth novel by Richard Powers, was recommended by a reader.  The dramatic, but dark book was filled with hundreds of tree factoids which added interest to the development of the nine characters, some with history going back generations.  The novel is organized into Roots, Trunk, Crown, Seeds and Introductions of each character.   

Nick the artist.  Six chestnut nuts were planted in a western Iowa prairie, one survived.  Because of the remoteness, the tree had escaped chestnut blight. Nick possessed the family treasure, a book filled with 100 years of black and white photos taken by four generations of his family of the chestnut tree.  

The college student Olivia overdosed and was nearly electrocuted, but awoke filled with a new purpose:  to save the Redwoods.  She with her friend Nick became tree-sitters in Mimas, a gigantic old Redwood.  Here they stay for over a year while the trees around Mimas are cut down.

The wheelchair-bound Indian immigrant Neelay, software entrepreneur, was inspired by trees as he designed game programs.  As his games became more challenging, the players increasingly focused on greed and profits.  The couple, Raymond and Dorothy, after Ray suffered a stroke, found how captivating their own backyard was.  They let it go wild.  

Mimi, the oldest daughter of a Chinese immigrant, fell in love with three pine trees at work, but took action after her trees were cut down by the city during the night.  Douggie, the disillusioned Vietnam veteran turned Douglas fir tree-planter had run-ins with logging companies over clear-cutting.  Adam, the boy fascinated with ants, later turned to psychology to study people’s inability to see what truly is happening.  He was swept up in the campaign to save the trees.  

Dendrologist Patricia Westerford, as a girl, was guided by her father the agriculture extension agent.  She later did extensive research and field work, resulting in several papers and her book “The Secret Forest.”  

Richard Powers probably based her fictitious book on Peter Wollenleben’s 2015 best seller “The Hidden Life of Trees”.  Her book ends with words of Buddha:  “A tree is a wondrous thing that shelters, feeds, and protects all living things.  It even offers shade to the axmen who destroy it.”

Black-eyed Susans

In the Overstory is found passion, fantasy, conflict, and resignation. Of the nine individuals, half became eco-warriors.  All were deeply affected by trees.  The long complex book, a slow and lengthy read, was written in tree time. Reflecting on the fact people are doing terrible damage to the earth ecosystems, in the final paragraph a voice whispers from the branches:  “This.  What we have been given.  What we must earn.  This will never end.”   

Notable excerpts:

“What use are we to trees?”  

“What you make from a tree should be at least as miraculous as what you cut down.”

Today. Look at life around you.  The Future. Delete half of what you see.

We’re seven days into summer.  How are you faring?  The black-eyed Susans and Coreopsis are beautiful.  The bee balm blooms are pink!  Cool off and celebrate National Ice Cream Cake day.  It’s been held every June 27th since 2018. If we apply ourselves, we can keep this new tradition going.  

Bee Balm lives up to its name

Think of it.  Banana pudding ice cream cake for 2020, Baked Alaska on 2021, Neapolitan ice cream cake in 2022, Strawberry ice cream cake for 2023, Snickers ice cream cake in 2024….the list is endless.  The event currently does not have a sponsor.  Here’s your chance to advertise your own amazing ice cream cake.

Food Network Kitchen concocted ‘The Ice Cream Flag Cake” using white cake, raspberry sorbet, vanilla ice cream covered in a whipped powdered sugar/heavy cream frosting.  Each slice is a flag.  Something special for the fourth!

www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/ice-cream-flag-cake

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.