Those willow trees will have to go

For all the joys our new home in Cobourg has brought since we moved here in late September, there have inevitably been challenges too. It’s part of the journey we signed up for when we moved here.

One issue we knew we’d face right away was the trio of massive willow trees across the back of our backyard. They’re pretty trees, but they’re not a native species, and they really are not a wise tree to plant in a town setting. Too weak, too fast-growing, and too short-lived. We knew when we moved in that at least one of them would have to go, due to trunk rot and other damage. Calling the arborist was always on the ‘to do’ list, right after getting the roof redone, having gas lines dealt with for the stove and dryer, replacing some waterlines, and upgrading a few electrical junctions.

By the night of Hurricane Sandy, we hadn’t made the call yet. We’d only been here a few weeks, and with the new baby time just slips away. So I wasn’t expecting to get much sleep: I knew we were in real danger of losing part, or all of one of the willows, at least, that night.

Sure enough, at about 10 o’clock in the evening, I heard a huge crack amid the terrific wind and rain. I ran outside to discover that a limb of one of the three willows, as big as a good-sized tree itself, had come straight down into my neighbour’s backyard. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and next to no damage was done. In fact, it couldn’t have come down more smoothly if a professional had been on the job.

Kind of like that time a huge limb of a Manitoba maple fell into my yard in Toronto.

I slept a lot better that night, knowing the biggest and potentially deadliest of overhanging limbs was now out of the way.

The next morning, it was a relief to see that nothing else had fallen in the night. Meghan posted something about the fallen willow on Facebook, and within an hour, our friend Ted had showed up with a chainsaw, ready to get to work. Between the two of us, we bucked and hauled out most of the wood pretty quickly.

In the process, we discovered a beehive, the hard way. Not for us, but for the bees: Ted ran his chainsaw right through a wild honeybee colony, twice, before realizing what he’d done. Thankfully the bees were so ‘chilled’ due to cold weather, we avoided getting swarmed. I got stung once, and that was it. But we were both pretty disheartened about the nest; it would be a terrible shame to lose a colony of wild bees in a time when colony collapse is reducing populations of honeybees across the continent.

Thankfully, the neighbours managed to track down someone to come and collect the bees. I just about jumped for joy when a guy showed up a few days later, and hauled off the three sections of that big old limb containing the nest, now in three parts. The bees would be okay, and come springtime, he’d get them into a hive. Having their ‘genetics’, as a healthy feral colony, would be a real boost to his breeding efforts in the years to come, too.

My next challenge was a huge pile of brush to deal with. You can’t leave willow lying around in the yard; come springtime, it will sprout, and the problem begins all over again. But that one limb alone meant I had two giant piles of twigs and branches, still with the leaves on, to get rid of. I worked away at that off and on for a couple of weeks, eventually recruiting my buddy Michael and his truck for that job. For the price of a new trailer hitch and a trailer rental, I got Michael’s good company for the day, which gave us plenty of chance to catch up on all his latest adventures (and some of his ancient ones) as a painter, musician, and road warrior.

All that happened over the course of several weeks. Nothing goes too quickly around here, with so many things to manage all at once, and with everyone so tied up with one thing and another. But now we’re into December, and ice storms and snow are on their way.

So now two different arborists have been here, and their conclusions match my own: those willows have got to go. They’ve both worked on these trees before. One of them, it turns out, condemned that willow in the west corner eight years ago. It’s amazing it took this long for something drastic to happen, but now they’ve all got to go.

It’s a damn shame; they may not be native species, but they’re pretty trees, as you can see by the picture above. But they’re in the wrong place, and they’ve been there for too long, and their time has come regardless. All we can do is hasten their departure for their sakes and our neighbours’ and our own.

Again, just like the Manitoba maple on Hamilton Street, minus the surprise removal.

It’s going to be a big job, and not a cheap one. The sequel to this post will probably feature at least a few more neighbours, and some amazing vehicles and equipment, and men in trees dangling from ropes. Exciting stuff. Expensive stuff.

I don’t like to lose trees, still less to remove them. I grew up in the woods, and I worked as a tree planter, and I have a natural love for all things arboreal.

Still, I have to admit, taking care of the issues raised by these trees is enjoyable. What would you rather do: sit at a desk, staring at a screen, or wander around in the back yard with a tree guy, rubbing your chin and figuring out how to solve a problem? Drive up the parkway first thing in the morning, or tromp around in rubber boots, loading chunks of firewood into a wheelbarrow? Sit around a boardroom table reviewing strategic plans, or load a big pile of brush into a trailer and haul it off to the composting facility?

Those willows have got to go, alright. They’re a problem. But in my view, (and they are literally in my view) they’re a nice problem to have.

4 comments on “Those willow trees will have to go

  1. You might consider saving some of the wood for artistic purposes and as a reminder of your early adventures in the house. Maybe make a frame for the picture at the top of this story or carve a couple of walking sticks from promising branches.

  2. Thanks for your story David; I feel better now about having to remove a beautiful but problematic elm in our front yard. To all things…

  3. So great that it was you guys cutting up the tree, and not someone whose first instinct would be to go for a can of Raid.

  4. Awe I’m sad to see those trees go, I used to live there when I was young and have a lot of fond memories of running around in that backyard under those trees, I obviously understand the need though, hope you enjoy living in that house! I have some great memories there and hope you take care of it better than some of the previous owners, which it seems like you’re doing.

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