Big Yellow Taxi

When I was a child, our home had a row of American elm trees separating our property from our neighbor to the south.  I climbed one of those trees so often that I could get to a branch 20 feet up within a few seconds.  Unfortunately, Dutch elm disease came along and wiped out just about every elm in Iowa and the nation.

The one good thing that came from all those diseased elms was the morel mushrooms that sprout in spring (that’s as far as I’m going to go on that subject – too many people have been harvesting them as it is, especially when newspapers love to publish stories on how to locate the tasty morsels).

After the Dutch elm disease, everyone was encouraged to plant ash trees.  I have planted so many ash trees that I couldn’t begin to estimate how many locations my hands got dirty planting them.  Now, along comes the emerald ash bore and eats up all the ash trees.  At a community meeting, we were told to plant Kentucky coffee trees.  Yeah, right.  They grow slowly and create a mess at almost every time of the year.  But to each their own.  Is the Kentucky coffee tree the next species to encounter a deadly disease?  A few years ago, we planted a pear tree to replace the only ash tree we had.  This fall, we have begun to reap its fruit.  I have canned 15 jars of pear preserves.

Although the American elm trees of my youth were in the west-central town of Vail, Iowa, today I have the same amount and same size of elm trees on the south part of our yard.  As with the Vail trees, you can plainly see that they grew up in a fence line, and the fence line was removed; at least, part of it was on my current property.  The trees have grown into the fence, and as long as they are still alive, the fence and trees will remain conjoined.

The derecho[1] we experienced this past August knocked a good fifteen-foot branch of the top of one of the elms.  The branch was hanging over the playground of the daycare, which abuts our property.  The daycare owner had it removed within a day or two.

I began thinking of trees last week when the Cedar Rapids Gazette published an article about the massive loss of Cedar Rapids’ tree canopy as a result of Iowa’s derecho.  A loss of trees as big as eastern Iowa’s loss, and in particular, Cedar Rapids’, removed decades (and in some cases – centuries) of shade, habitat for wildlife, oxygen production, soil erosion prevention, and most of all, beauty.  Those thoughts recurred when we traveled to Ankeny a few days ago.  Trees, removed from the ground, roots still clinging to the soil, were piled high in the middle of several former fields in order for ground-leveling machinery to alter the sites for future warehouses.  Sure, once the warehouse is built, a spattering of small trees will be planted in front of the mammoth structures.  But those trees will take a very long time to match the work of the trees that have been removed.

Our backyard in Des Moines cannot handle one more tree.  In addition to the elms, we have four apple trees, an oak tree, a peach tree, and five very small serviceberry trees (planted by accident).  Likewise, our front yard is limited.  In front, we have a maple tree, a pear tree, a crabapple tree and a tree that was here when we moved in (we have no idea what it is).

We haven’t mowed the back yard in years.  The trees along with a small garden, blueberry bushes, black raspberries, blackberry canes, cup plants (from Sandy & John – thank you), and a few other prairie plants, provide squirrels, ground hogs, birds of numerous species, deer, opossum, and raccoons with food, water, shelter, and places for raising the young.  The natural selection process would not be complete without the occasional feral cat or Coopers hawk.  We chase them away – sometimes – but our backyard, neighbors’ opinions notwithstanding, is a thing of beauty.  The backyard is a Certified Wildlife Habitat, designated as such by the National Wildlife Federation.  In order to have a certified backyard or garden, all that is necessary is to confirm you have provided food, water, cover, and places to raise young birds and/or animals.

Check this out:

They took all the trees
And put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half to seem ’em

Joni Mitchell – 1970

[1] Derecho:  a line of intense, widespread, and fast-moving windstorms and sometimes thunderstorms that moves across a great distance and is characterized by damaging winds.  Definitions from Oxford Languages


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