Thursday, 18 September 2008

Return of the Elms

We've been doing a lot of driving back and forth in the last month between our apartment (which is still our job) and our new house. It's a beautiful drive, and although I feel guilty about all the gas we are using, and although it can get a bit time-consuming and tedious, in general I enjoy the trip very much - especially when we are heading away from the work part and towards the home part!

Young elms
It has also been making me very cheerful (or at least less gloomy than I tend to be generally) to see that the hedgerows have been busy sprouting elm trees these last 30 years or so. Elms aren't very noticeable as young trees, being thin and whippy. They need to reach middle age or so before they really fill out and develop that beautiful and very recognizable "vase" shape for which they are famous. In the last year or so, suddenly a new crop of elms has reached the size where they are easy to spot as you drive by.

Dead elms
The other thing elms are famous for, of course, is being dead. I am just barely old enough to remember when every field in southern Ontario was ringed with majestic old elms. By the time I was a teenager, they were almost all dead and decaying wrecks, and by the time I hit my early 20's even the stumps were disappearing. The culprit was Dutch elm disease, which is a fungus spread by elm bark beetles. There seemed to be nothing that could be done, and it seemed probable that the elm had pretty much gone the way of the American chestnut, which is now counted by the single specimen. I, like many people, felt their loss as keenly as I have felt the loss of members of my family to death.

So it is with a sense of a miraculous resurrection that I see them in hedgerow after hedgerow this year. Many of them are struggling; some like the ones above have succumbed. But it seems pretty clear that they are down, not out. I will never see the hedgerows filled with mature elms in my lifetime, but there is at least the possibility that it will happen. Enough resistant elms are reproducing, and their most resistant offspring are living to reproduce too. At some point, there will be a balance.

And when that happens, there will be a lot more graceful old elm trees around, like this one. (Although I don't think this one is as old as all that - but it's sound enough to have reached a a good size and a shapely form.) I expect to see many of the hopeful young elms we've been driving past this summer sitting as sad dead skeletons in the next few years to come. But I also expect to see more and more sturdy survivors.

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