Arboreal Lemonade

Trees bend under the weight of ice in Maine (2013) Photo: AP/Robert F. Bukaty

Trees bend under the weight of ice in Maine (2013)
Photo: AP/Robert F. Bukaty

One of the cornerstones of creating smart, sustainable cities and human landscapes is good tree management. Trees provide structure, color, movement and life to streets and parks – and they provide heat-reducing shade, absorb pollutants, and offer a haven for animals.

The severe storms of the past winter were devastating to trees in parts of the United States. Branches snapped and trunks splintered on trees that had been around for generations.

At Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, a well-established and meticulously documented urban forest was decimated by a December ice storm. Biology professor Frank Telewski took the lemons dealt to the trees and made lemonade, adding the documentation from the trees – some of which dates back to the 19th century – to new, post-storm assessments to determine which trees can best withstand ice storms.

A cooperative project between researchers from a number of U.S. states is under way that will examine which types of trees can be expected to survive extreme weather, including drought, and plan accordingly for the future. I would be interested to see how native trees fare in severe weather when compared to trees introduced over the decades from elsewhere.

Many trees that have been popular for urban planting, such as pleasing ornamentals, or trees that have rapid growth, end up costing more in the long run than slow-growing or less exotic choices, because the fragile trees succumb to extremes. And sometimes, they take power lines, roofs, and lives with them.

Telewski says he’s looking for big companion trees that will stay with us for the long haul.

“We want to plant trees that live a really long time.”

Frosted Fig

Last week, I went for a short walk in the late afternoon. It was sunny, and although it wasn’t warm, it was tolerably above zero.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

Then the temperature plunged, and the first real winter fog of the season settled in.

I’m fortunate in that I don’t mind fog. Probably because I grew up along the notoriously foggy coastline of northern California.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

It’s not pleasant to drive in, but otherwise, I find it a more comforting and comfortable weather condition than, say, sheets of rain or hip-deep snow.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

Many in the Lake Geneva area succumb to gloomy moods during our long foggy sessions, which can last for weeks. I took most of these photos early this morning. The fog had thinned a bit, allowing a much longer view than I’ve seen in days. I can even see the roofs of neighboring houses.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

The garden has gone into sugar-frosted glory. The fog itself floats in tiny crystals, and after three days of this, the layers of fine ice have become thick and heavy.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

In a pinch, though, there’s always a simple solution to escape the fog: A half-hour drive up into the Jura, above the fog line. Our village is at an altitude of around 1500 ft (470 m), and I can often see a tinge of blue above, where the blanket of fog stops and sunshine begins.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

Every so often, the lower part of our road will be in the fog, while we look out across a sunny sea of white. Not today, though. And probably not this week.

This is the week an ambitious patio dandelion thought it had one last chance at seeding out before winter. It didn’t.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read