Evanston’s tag line is “City of Trees” but there are fewer and fewer big, historic trees every year as Dutch Elm and Japanese beetles take their toll. Each summer, as I walk to and from work, I often come across city forestry crews cutting down these majestic, decades-old trees and it always saddens me. To think these beautiful trees survived so much, only to be felled by an invasive, foreign pest.
At the same time, watching these guys take a tree down can be fascinating.
A few weeks ago I had the unfortunate pleasure to have a front row seat at the take-down of a huge elm tree that was 80-some-years old. We knew the tree’s days were numbered in early July when a man in a cherry picker took a sample of the tree’s bark to test and left a big yellow dot on the trunk. A marked tree.
Obviously, the test came back positive and the tree had to come down. Everyone in the neighborhood was heartbroken, none more so than Mildred, the woman who’s home has been shaded by the tree for many years. Mildred and the tree grew up together. She lives in the home her parents built and they planted that tree in front of their house when Mildred was a little girl. This was the second tree planted by them that had to come down, both victims of Dutch Elm disease.
Eighty-some years in the making, eight hours to make it disappear. They first used a cherry picker, ropes and a chainsaw to remove the branches and stuff them in a chipper. Then, when all that was left was a two-story high trunk, they did the whole timber maneuver using a truck and a winch to pull it down. They sawed the trunk in pieces, loaded them on a flatbed truck and hauled it all away, leaving the stump as a reminder of what used to be.
In the photo above, you can see Mildred at the door, sitting in her porch watching the tree’s final moments. When it came down, she came out and neighbors, who’d been coming by all morning, came again and offered their condolences. The city said they’ll plant a replacement tree, though it probably won’t be until next year and even then, there will remain a gaping hole in the sky where the elm tree canopy used to be.