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A tree in the city: the forest has been replaced by us.

I live in the old part of the city, at the edge of a large park. The oldest houses here were built in the late 1800s; my house is about 100 years old. Take a look at this neighbourhood from the sky and what you see is a lot of green. One of the charms of this neighbourhood is the old trees. There are three of them on my property. A sugar maple which an arborist estimated at nearly 200 years of age; a black walnut around 100 years and an oak a quarter century older than that. There's also a crab apple tree about 20 or more years old, with its branches twisting at odd angles directly in front of the house.

There are trees like these on almost every property on my block. Century-old maples and oaks. Beautiful, majestic, a chore when the leaves fall, aggravating when the sap flows. Dangerous during ice storms. A limb from our maple fell on one of our cars; not a scratch on the car--just the way the branch twisted and fell onto the roof rack--but it did take out the power lines, and two of our neighbours were without power for a couple of days. A heavy branch from a neighbour's maple crushed a car. Then another branch from that same tree fell. Another neighbour's tree smashed a garage.

Trees grow old. A maple can live to four centuries, but not in the city. They can't shed and regenerate where we live. A 10-foot portion, about a foot thick, of a neighbour's maple fell in the middle of the day, onto my walkway, feet from the sidewalk, about 10 feet from where somebody was raking leaves on my property. He never heard that tree crack; there was no warning. That limb could have killed him.

A couple more incidents like that and the tree had to go. The tree that crushed a car is being removed as I write this.

The only sin these trees have committed is to grow old. They were born before there was a neighbourhood. The original developers must have removed a forest of trees; left one or two standing per lot. Then came the houses, the people, the possessions. That black walnut in the backyard extends over my neighbour's backyard where several cars are parked. One hundred-year storm (and we've had a few of them over the past decade) and it could wipe out tens of thousands of dollars, knock out power or cable or even a portion of the house.

It's a beautiful tree that adds to the beauty of our backyard. But it's only a matter of time; 10 years, five, 20. Also, the maple. Two of its buddies have already been removed by the city over the past year. A matter of time.

In the forest, trees shed, renew life. There is no person there to rake away their seed, their regeneration. In the city they are an aesthetic presence only. (Oh sure, yeah, they are the city's lungs, but that is trumped by the danger they pose in their ageing to children.)

The landscape has shifted under those trees. The forest has been replaced by roads and driveways. It's not the fault of the trees that they are potential dangers; nor is it our fault that we live where they were born. That's just the way things are. That's all. Town and country are locked in a symbiotic relationship and like all such relationships one partner is the host, one is the parasite. Which is which on any given day changes.

Andrew Faiz is the Record's senior editor.

By Andrew Faiz

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Author:Faiz, Andrew
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2015
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