There once was a mighty silver maple tree, looking like a small silo with bark, that was planted 100 years ago. You could track its deterioration every time you passed it on Kemp Lane. It still had leaves, but the core was hollowing out, and since it was so close to the road, you hurried past in your car hoping it wasn’t about to come crashing down.
The young family living on the hill in the nearby farmhouse noticed this too. The dead limbs were clogging the driveway, and their school-aged children had to wait for the bus in the same area shared by the tottering tree. Other neighbors noticed it as well and alerted the county. A crew came out about three weeks ago and cut it down, hauling away what was left of the former giant.
Our Bowers Road neighbors Larry and Donna Oden knew that tree well. In fact, they remembered there were two large silver maples at the end of their former farm’s driveway on Kemp Lane. Donna Oden also remembers the story that it was Estelle Martz who planted those trees. The Odens weren’t around to see the end of the big tree. They left their farm five years ago to move to their home on Bowers Road, about a mile away. But shortly after they moved, it was only fitting that they planted two trees in their front yard — red maples this time.
When we drive past that area now, we don’t have to worry about getting crushed by a dying maple tree that must have been a majestic beauty in its prime. It’s gone, but there’s nothing to replace it except bare fields and open space. The area might be safer, but we miss the tree.
We take for granted trees we pass every day. We don’t give a lot of thought to those trees that shade us, provide cover for wildlife, add beauty to our surroundings and provide a much-needed charge of fresh air. They also provide lumber for our houses, furniture, and fuel for our fireplaces. All this despite our best efforts to kill them off with polluted air and water and cut them down to provide a space for houses and treeless lawns.
It’s so remarkable that trees can start out as spindly seedlings less than a foot tall and, given enough time, can grow strong enough to stop a speeding 2-ton car. Some are slow-growing — like the tiny black oak, transplanted to our backyard, probably started by a squirrel burying an acorn, and now, four years later, is 10 feet tall. Some, like sumac, grow like weeds — maybe they are a weed — like the ones that surrounded our home in Denver years ago and took a lot of weekends to root out.
Now we live in an area that respects trees and maintains a 7,000-acre watershed full of them. Frederick’s a city that earns annual awards for its tree canopy, including those huge shade trees in Baker Park. In case you didn’t notice, the city is full of trees — 80 different species, more than 11,000 overall, and 1,100 in the historic district, according to Frederick city arborist Tom Rippeon.
In case you’re wondering what kind of tree you have in front of your house, Rippeon suggests a city website that should get even the most halfhearted tree-hugger excited. Try: City of Frederick arborist, then Street Tree Map. It’s really neat. The key is to click on the little green icon. That’s a tree. I zeroed in on an area near the Elks Club at Shookstown Road and Willowdale Drive and discovered a variety of trees along Shookstown Road. In that area were a hornbeam, red maple, American elm and sugar maple.
The trees we’ll be paying most attention to this time of year are the ones lining Patrick and Market streets in downtown Frederick. They’ll soon be sparkling with white Christmas lights — a sight to brighten the spirit of even the most dedicated Scrooge. But did you ever consider that without those trees, the lights would have to be strung on ugly poles? Or worse yet, city workers would have to line up along the streets holding those lights up all night. It just wouldn’t be the same without those trees.
Dedicated tree-hugger Bill Pritchard, who has worked in community journalism for 40 years, including 10 years of column writing, writes from Frederick. Reach him at email@example.com.