An unexpected convergence of ideas came to me on my most recent travels. Saturday, I came across several problematic red maples at Seven Points State Park. If you look closely at the photo, you can see that the tree by which I am standing has a past, present and future need of pruning.
There are at least two major flaws in the tree. First, as is common in red maples — and if you want to see red maples with similar problems you have to travel no farther than the softball fields at Hillside Park — the tree has multiple codominant stems with included bark. This flaw means that as the tree grows older and the stems get thicker, they function as structural competitors rather than as structural complements. A tree with untreated codominant stems and included bark is simply on death row, waiting for the right combination of wind, rain, and/or snow load to execute the sentence.
The second flaw is rubbing branches. At the top of the photo, you can see that the multiple stems of the tree have produced lateral branches — as we expect stems to do — but the branches are damaging the other stems. In other words, the tree is wounding itself. Now I never like to make guarantees about the future of trees, but according to conventional arboricultural knowledge, either of these two flaws jeopardize the future of the tree, anyone or anything under it, and the resources of those responsible for cleaning up the mess.
Pruning in the past would have been ideal, before the flaws became integral to the tree. Pruning in the present would be expensive and difficult. Pruning in the future would have to be limited in its scope, and would certainly require the external aid of cables and braces. Of course, if the tree had been left in the forest, or would never interact with humans, it would have pruned itself or been a risk to no one.
Past, present, and future brings me to the other subjects of the photo. My son, Clement corresponds to the tree in the past, I correspond to the tree in the present, and, of course my son’s grandfathers (not pictured) would correspond to the tree in the future. While travelling with my family, I spoke at length with my sister, and confessed that as a parent, I want to protect my children from an endless array of harmful addictive behaviors and poverty of any kind. I want to prune and fertilize for their flourishing. Now it occurs to me that like the tree in the present, I might have some major flaws that need correction, even though it might take more drastic measures. And, of course, all good pruning of trees or humans requires a tree surgeon with a solid standard. Adult “trees” also need willingness.
JOSHUA ARP IS AN ISA-CERTIFIED MUNICIPAL SPECIALIST, CLARKS SUMMIT’S MUNICIPAL ARBORIST AND
OPERATOR OF AN ORGANIC LAWN AND LANDSCAPE MAINTENANCE BUSINESS. REACH HIM AT