Chesapeake Bay's Independent Newspaper ~ Since 1993
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Volume XVII, Issue 45 ~ November 5 - November 11, 2009

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Where We Live

by Steve Carr

We All Fall Down

Like leaves, we flourish and then we fall

It’s that magical time of the year when the leaves are turning color and hitting the ground with wild abandon.

Storms seem to trigger the cascade. We get a cold front packing stiff winds and driving rain, and the trees start dropping their leaves.

I like the change of seasons and enjoy watching the trees get naked as winter approaches, but as I get older, raking leaves is becoming a back-busting chore. I used to enjoy raking leaves — the earthy smell and stoner colors — but time has made me a little less psyched to see the trees shedding their leafy coats.

I have always been a purist. I still have the same rake I used when I was a little boy and my dad would point me toward the back lawn and say, “Deliver us from the leaves.”

But that old game is getting to be a pain in the butt.

Outside on the porch the other afternoon, as I watched the sunset turn the leaves a fiery orange and yellow, I noticed that the first leaves to drop were the low-hanging ones. I’m guessing this is a function of sunlight. The leaves at the top of the tree are hardier because they get more light, while the lower ones have less strength to hold on as long.

I thought to myself, I should start dealing with the leaves earlier this year. If I were to do a little bit each week, it wouldn’t seem so overwhelming.

That thought vanished when we decided to head to the Appalachian Trail for some hiking. The next weekend it rained. Then there was the Chesapeake Outdoor Group’s annual crab feast.

By that point, the leaves were everywhere, covering every bush, every chair, every table. And the trees still had more than half their leafy cover.

At the hardware store a few days later, I noticed a really cool toy. It’s a leaf blower and leaf vacuum all in one. It’s goofy looking, what with a big black tube that sucks the leaves into the grinder and a white cotton bag that hangs from your shoulder. But this baby means business. It sucks up leaves and spits them out the back end into the bag like a growling leaf-eating monster.

I liked this new toy so much that I felt a joyous rush when I watched the leaves blowing off the trees like confetti.

But leaves are relentless and overpowering. You not only get to deal with your own leaves but also the leaves from your neighbors’ trees.

Leaves and All, Annapolis Loves Its Trees

So, given that trees are such a seasonal chore, Annapolis’ love affair with trees is pretty amazing.

Annapolis has managed to preserve over 40 percent of its tree canopy, which puts it atop the leader board for Maryland cities. To put that in perspective, Frederick, which is about the same size as Annapolis, has only protected 12 percent of its trees.

Annapolis provides citizens with several opportunities each year to get free trees. There is GreenScape in the spring, when volunteers plant more than 200 trees in public spaces. Then in the fall, the city gives away several hundred more trees on a first-come, first-served basis. These trees can be planted anywhere, including your own back yard. The free trees are always scarfed up like hot cakes.

The city has a goal of planting at least 1,000 new trees a year and spends about $25,000 annually to replace trees that die or get cleared for new development. Now Annapolis has signed a cooperative agreement with the state Department of Natural Resources to increase its urban tree canopy to 50 percent by 2040.

Why are trees so important? I’m not talking about the obvious: They are beautiful and provide shade as they filter storm water runoff. But I am curious why Annapolitans value trees more than, say, the people of Frederick or Easton?

The quick answer is that Annapolis has very stringent tree regulations that make it hard for people to chop down their trees. But laws can be changed. Even so, I’ve never heard anyone complain about our tree preservation laws. We are too busy planting more trees.

Annapolitans have a deep and abiding sense of history, and trees are a simple, loving way to pass on something of value to the next generation. Each tree we plant lives on when we are gone, because in the end, we humans are a lot like leaves. We flourish and then fall. Nothing in the natural world can teach that lesson better than a tree.