May 4, 2014

What I Did for Love

A neighbor took down a Norway maple last week.  Norway maples, for those who do not carefully follow environmental issues, is one of worst trees ever foisted on New Englanders.  For much of the second half of the 20th century it was a ‘developer’s tree’; a fast growing specimen that could go from a ‘whip’ to a thirty-foot behemoth in under ten years.  And it was a maple!  And Norwegian!

The remains of a Norway maple
Acer platanoides may be - however technically - a maple, although its native range runs more to Bulgaria and Russia than Scandanavia.  The ‘Norway’ name was appended to the tree in the 1950s to class it up a bit.  Norway maples are variously described as a ‘weed' tree, a ‘rat’ tree, and ‘trash’, and all for good reasons.  It has an unbelievably dense root system that chokes out anything around it.  It is a voracious consumer of water.  Its limbs can come crashing down for no particular reason other than to annoy you and put a dent in your car.  And don’t ever think about tapping it for maple syrup.  The sugar content is virtually non-existent and the sap is milky.

The sale of Norway maples is illegal in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and other northeastern states rightly consider it invasive.  Unfortunately, those trees planted before the ban went into place can remain.  We took down the two Acer platanoides that were on our property (planted by the developer, naturally) years ago.  Betty gnashes her teeth as we drive down our street where half a dozen specimens remain.

But the sound of a chipper caught our attention and so I walked up the street to find a landscaper feeding the last limbs into the maw of a large, noisy machine.

The wood chips define a path between
two beds at the front of our property.
“Only thing a tree like that is good for,” I said, watching the chips fly into the back of a dump truck.

The landscaper nodded his agreement.  “I take out a couple of dozen of these every spring,” he said.  “Good riddance.”

Then came the fateful question.  “Got any plans for the chips?” I asked.

He shook his head.  “Take ‘em back to the lot, I guess.”

“I’ll take them,” I said, trying to sound like I did this three or four times a day.  “I live just up the street.”  I threw my thumb over my shoulder.

The landscaper squinted at me.  “Fifteen minutes,” he said.  “But you got to take the logs, too.”

I knew better than to bargain further.  I was about to get ten cubic yards of wood chips for free.  Of course, I was doing the landscaper a favor: most places where landscaping debris can be ‘tipped’ want a fee for doing so.  Perhaps these would have ‘gone back to the yard’.  But his readiness to give them to me indicates they were headed for a landfill.

25 cartloads went to create this
border behind one of
our perennial beds.
At this point we need to back up a few minutes and a few paragraphs to the point where I said that the sound of a chipper caught “our” attention.  That statement is true.  Both Betty and I heard it.  But, left to my own devices, I would have ignored the sound until it went away.  You see, getting a load of chips or mulch or anything like that means hard work lies ahead.  It isn’t that I avoid difficult projects; I just don’t go out of my way to start them.

But when we heard the chipper, it was Betty who said, “Why don’t you go up and see if it’s something we could use?”

These are the things we do for love.  We go bargain for ten cubic yards of wood chips knowing that we will be the one who actually moves them.  And then down Motrin by the handful.

Fifteen minutes later the dump truck rumbled down the cul-de-sac and I waved in into an area just outside of our driveway.  It was, in fact, six yards of chips and four cubic yards of logs.  I smiled as the truck pulled away.  It was one of those ‘bargains with a curveball’:  mulch I could use but logs that will need to age two to three years before they’re useful.

It took just three days to disperse the chips.  I loaded them into wheelbarrows and carts and dumped them around the woodland edges and paths on our property where Betty directed.  There, she spread them several inches thick to hold down weeds and define borders.  In the process I re-awakened arm and back muscles that that taken the winter off (except for shoveling snow).  The morning after my first day (seventeen loads) I was so sore I could hardly stand.  The morning after the second day (twenty-five loads), I took a couple of Motrin and shrugged it off.  At the third day (ten loads plus moving and stacking two dozen logs), I enjoyed a glass of Scotch.

The wood mulch will keep down
the weeds in this area of the
garden.  A fitting use for a 'weed' tree.
I sometime think we fear getting into projects more than we ache from doing them.  In the next week or so, we’ll need to order up ten-plus cubic yards of brown mulch for our multiple beds.  Before I took on the wood chip project, I had been dreading ordering the mulch.  It was a subject I simply would not bring up.  Now, with my arms starting to get back into shape, it has moved into the realm of ‘not a big deal’.

It’s so much not a big deal that, today, I casually asked Betty how soon we were likely to order the mulch and how many yards it would likely take.

That’s what I call progress.  It’s also what I call love of gardening and of those whom we work alongside as we garden.

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