RICHMOND — As hurricanes, natural and political, swept their whirlwind way through the nation last week, it seemed a good time to focus on what was happening in the front yard instead. One of the giant maples planted at the roadside about 50 years ago was being reduced to a stump.
In the early 1960s, the late Bud Reynolds, a Richmond native, planted seven maple saplings in front of our house at the behest of Donald B. Miller, then publisher of The Berkshire Eagle. The trees were plucked from Don's woods on the other side of town, and they looked lost and spindly in front of the house.
But all seven survived and became large, healthy and, every fall, colorful. A neighbor commented a few years ago that she had told herself, as she walked by, that those trees "would never make it," and had been proved quite wrong.
The one that came down last week was never quite as strong as the others. Its trunk was twisted, and its leader was removed, quite dead, years ago. Still, it was stubborn enough to grow another. Then small branches started to fall, it turned yellow earlier than the other trees, and the worry was that ice and snow might drop larger branches on wires or someone's head. Probably mine.
So, as the expert tree crew carefully shaved the tree branch by branch last week, it was a little sad but a necessity. Across the driveway stood one of the most orange maples in Berkshire County this year, and the best way to watch the demise of the one was to photograph the other. In addition, there's the usual bright side. While the smaller branches were eaten up by the chipper, a large pile remains on the lawn. Once those pieces are cut up and seasoned, they'll play a new role – few things are nicer than the warmth of a blazing fire in the fireplace when snow is falling.
Sugar maples have been known to live for 300 years. Counting its infant years before it was moved to our road, our fallen tree could not have been more than 75. It seems possible that the future for sugar maples may not include longevity, with tree experts saying that they're worried about the effect of climate change on these trees. We consider sugar maples treasures, not only for their dense shade in summer but because they supply us with maple syrup and are the very core of the tourist leaf-peeping season, basic to the fall economy in the Northeast and Canada.
The experts also point out that the trillions of leaves we don't want to rake – we mow as many as possible – actually enrich the soil of the forests where so many of them grow. And the maple saplings, plus those little airplane seeds, are food for deer, moose and squirrels. So it's worrisome that studies find growth rate of many maples has been slowing for several decades.
The U.S. Forest Service has predicted that the southernmost band of sugar maples will be affected first, including trees in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland, all of which produce lots of maple syrup. And federal climate models have predicted that most of the maples could be gone by the next century, weakened by acid rain and now attacked by greenhouse gases.
If you're a maple tree, you probably know that climate change is not a hoax.
Ruth Bass enjoys the palest of maple syrup categories. Her web site is www.ruthbass.com.