Sunday, July 13, 2008
A second day on the Cochinchaug
After the paddle up the Cochinchaug River, I decided to take my morning walk through Veteran's Park, which forms the Northern border of a stretch of the Cochinchaug which is stressed due to the commercial development on its border along Route 66.
I started out walking through Wesleyan, and noticed a tree removal posting on two hundred-year plus specimens in front of the Wesleyan Film Center. The Buildings and Grounds Department have made it a practice to post notices on trees which are about to be taken down because they are diseased, dead, or severely stressed. The only problem with the posting is that you have to be on foot to notice them, and if your regular route doesn't take you by a posted tree, you might not notice it in the week or two the postings are up. In addition, these postings are pretty nondescript, black print on regular white printer paper, and after a rain shower or two, they devolve into a wrinkly, unreadable mass.
The two trees in front of the Film Center are definitely stressed, and likely won't make it a few more years. And to be frank, trees, especially city trees, don't last forever. However, what's not implicit in the posting to cut the trees is that the construction of buildings, walks and driveways around the trees a few years ago, probably had a lot to do with their current weakened state.
I've said it before, and I've said it to Dave Hall, head of Wesleyan buildings and grounds, that I'm not always convinced of the effort taken to help trees, especially trees that stand in the way of some proposed building, or which interfere with regular groundskeeping. A half a block away from these trees is a blank spot where an old variety apple tree stood a few years ago. I used to pick apples from this tree for applesauce and pie, and it was a bit ragged, and the rotting fruit was messy and attracted yellow jacket wasps. It's my contention that sometimes this tree removal is a way to make mechanical powermowing easier for the groundskeeping contractors.
On Washington Court, where the apple tree was, a new ornamental maple has been planted. But near Russell House, where two apple tree were taken down, there were no replacements of any kind, and the power mowers zip up and down the hill, unimpeded by low hanging apple branches or rotten fruit.
I think the Wesleyan crew has got to consider the value of the old trees it has, and the concessions it makes for modern groundskeeping. Currently, the grounds crew has been observed, and confronted, because they pour the very toxic RoundUp (glyphosate) at the base of trees so that the grass and other plants will die, and trimming will not be necessary. While RoundUp is purported to only affect broad leaf grasses, one only needs to do a Google search to see that the effect of having a herbicide poured on a tree's roots cannot be healthy for the trees, or the people, birds, insects and animals who come in contact with the area around those trees. There are a lot of stressed curbside trees around campus. What's more, the runoff from the trees, inevitably end up in the local stream and rivers, where glyphosate has been proven to affect amphibian life.
In addition, while Wesleyan painters are doing a great job making some Wesleyan-owned properties look spiffy with new paint jobs, I've noticed that some of the painting contractors have given up on the reliable ladder and scaffold method of reaching paintable heights, for the rolling boom lift, or crane. While these cranes can get painters to tough-to-reach spots, evidence can be found that these heavy vehicles are compacting earth around the mature, though ecologically fragile old trees on campus. Witness the deep tire tracks next to an ancient tree near the Russell House. Will we see "notice to remove" signs flapping from these tree trunks in a few years?
Once past Wesleyan, and my worry about the trees there, I continued on to Veterans' Park. I walked through parking lots adjacent to the Cochinchaug and remembered how Wesleyan professor Barry Chernoff described dead spots in the river as it runs through the park because of the way rainwater sheets off these parking lots (and the parking lots of existing, and being-built commercial properties along route 66). The river is beautiful from the park, and I saw a few small brook trout swimming.
As I walked through the Palmer Field parking lot (the expansion of which was prevented by Chernoff's testimony to the Zoning Board), I noticed a small brook which feeds into the Cochinchaug. Grey water flowed through the brook, which was filled with litter. A little further upstream, an ugly algae bloom was in progress (perhaps the result of contamination by goose feces in the pond which feeds this stream at Butternut Park), and just before the culvert that runs below route 66, a muskrat was gathering new grass, and a small garter snake swam along the surface.
Walking back up Washington Street my mood was brightened considerably by a mimosa tree in full bloom in front of one of the homes there. The flowers are spectacular to see and smell. The homeowner, who was sweeping her walk, explained that she transplanted a sapling many years ago from her former apartment building in Hartford, and that the tree blooms all day and night, wafting its lovely fragrance on the night breeze.