The Dead Tree

I spend more time watching the dead tree than I do Netflix. In fact, I’ll be pitching a series to the monolithic entertainment gods soon that consists entirely of a single camera, pointed at a single dead tree, for hours each day. Actually, that’s the whole pitch. Hit me up, Flix!

The dead tree has been dead for a long time. It might actually have been dead (i.e. no longer seeding out) when we moved in more than a decade ago. Occasionally branches fall off, but it still pushes out leaves on one of its three trunks. The other two are mostly hollowed out by insects and woodpeckers.

Is it actually undead? Netflix has made millions on undead stuff.

I have friends who express jealousy over our dead tree, such is the entertainment value. We watched a family of downy woodpeckers make their spring home in one of the hollows, high up, and then fly around in constant frenzy bringing insects back to the hatched young.

Northern flickers and red-bellied woodpeckers stop there to peck for insects, disappearing into the hollows and emerging from perfectly round holes higher up. White-breasted nuthatches and tufted titmice are winter guests, not to mention our regular guests, robins, blue jays, starlings, mourning doves, house sparrows, and the rest.

Do not kill a tree to get a dead tree, but you very definitely need a dead tree. Watching what a dead tree does, what it offers to all the living stuff around it, is fascinating, and our human idea of “cleaning up” dead trees and dead leaves and dead stuff generally is probably very wrong.

Put another way, having dead trees is an important part of having live trees and insects and birds and ground cover and fungus and probably a lot of other stuff I can’t see from where I’m sitting on the back porch, drinking coffee.

The tree guy came and gave us the run down. We have a row of Norway Maple, invasive, that needs to go before it plants its offspring in our gutters, our driveway, and anywhere else its seeds can find purchase. At the back of the yard there is a Mulberry, just in front of the dead tree, which is a cherry. The Mulberry rains its fruit in the yard and brings as many different species as the dead tree, orioles in particular. The Mulberry is so good it almost distracts from all the stuff happening at the dead tree.

The tree guy said we could cut down almost everything, but I don’t like to cut down a tree. The Norway Maples can go, but who am I? How long have these trees been here? They are massive living things, slowly, busily cleaning our air and heartening our soil. Whatever we cut, we’ll replace with new, native trees.

And we’ll clean up the dead tree as it falls to pieces across our yard and the neighbors’. I’ll probably drag the big limbs back into the overgrowth around the tree’s trunk, so it can continue to disintegrate, and we can watch the funguses come for it, break it down, and return it to soil.

The dead tree was probably dead when we got here, but it’ll probably out last us here, which just goes to show the timescale trees operate on, how unworthy we are to “manage” them, and what sort of potential my new Netflix series has.

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