Lileks: Time for the tree-reapers again

James Lileks, Star Tribune
·4 min read

You hate to see it: The green band of paint around a tree trunk. You cycle quickly through the stages of grief: No! Looks fine to me. Give it a chance. Can't you use some new experimental treatment? Must it go now?

Then the men come, the saws sing and that's the end. You wonder if it ever gets to them, or whether they think they're doing the necessary work of arboreal management. There's probably one guy who takes unnecessary pleasure in his work, though.

"I hate trees. A tree killed my brother."

That's awful! How did it happen?

"He entered a logrolling competition."

Oh, no! Was he crushed?

"No, he got a paper cut on his lip when he licked the envelope to mail in his entry. Got infected. Carried him off a month later."

That's ... horrible, but I don't see how a tree is to blame.

"Envelopes are made of paper. Paper's made of trees."

I understand, but this boulevard oak isn't going to be made into paper.

"You never know. They're shifty like that. One day they're standing there; the next, they're figuring out a way to get pulped."

It's interesting to consider the overlapping jurisdictions: The boulevard is the city's responsibility, except when it comes to mowing or watering. The sidewalk is public terrain when it comes to shoveling, and private when it comes to paying for its repair.

The front lawn is another gray zone: The city won't fine you for planting things it doesn't like, but you know there's a welter of picky ordinances they can use to make you remove the major appliances you set outside two months ago. The backyard, you assume, falls into the category of private property, where you are sovereign. But not really.

The other day the phone pinged. Text from my wife's phone: "Who marked the ash tree?"

For a moment, I thought this was some old lyric and the answer would be author of the book of love, as well as the clever chap who put the bop in the bop-de-bop-de-bob, after which he let the dogs out. Speaking of which, it was obvious who marked the ash tree. The dog.

Was the dog using my wife's phone to text? This would be the sort of thing a dog would text about. "I was sniffing the perimeter and encountered an unexpected scent on the ash. Someone marked our tree. This is very worrisome. Please advise."

So I responded: Which ash? Wife, who knows all the trees' names and probably their birthdays, texted, "The only one we have, in the backyard."

There were two possibilities. Some rogue agent for an unscrupulous tree-removal company was going around painting trees with the dreaded Green Band, hoping people would think, "It's dead, better call a guy."

Or, someone from the city had walked into my backyard and done it.

I called the city's forestry department and got a very nice young lady with all the answers.

She asked if I'd seen a green card hanging from my doorknob; it explained everything. I had not, I said. Of course, I hadn't looked before I'd left the house. Let's see, do I have everything? Wallet, keys, backpack and one last look at the doorknob to see if there's an account of the city's statutory rights to hop over my fence and condemn an unsuspecting ash.

She said this was part of the emerald ash borer situation, and I understood. "How about if I just wrap it in gauze, like a mask? It's already quarantined. It's at least 6 feet from any other ash. It's in the backyard behind a gate, so it's in lockdown. I don't think anyone will say it's essential and give it permission to move about."

Alas, this was not persuasive. She said I would be receiving bids. I immediately texted my friend the Giant Swede to see if he could bring over his chain saw so we could have an ol' fashioned ash-felling party. He informed me that I would, at the least, lose at least one hand.

Nah, can't see that happening. There's no green band around my wrist.