Filed under: My Garden
There were once three Modesto ash trees towering over our backyard here. One died well before we arrived, and the former owners had left the thick trunk lopped off at about eight feet high. Woodpeckers nested near the top of the dead wood every year, and if you were still, you could watch the parents flitting in zigzags from the branches of the remaining trees above it, never flying directly into the nest but always feinting right, then left, then darting in at the last. Sometimes you could even see them feeding their babies; we held ours up high so they could look in and see, too, from a safe distance.
Those other two trees, though, were attacked by the clouds of unpredatored white flies that hit California not long after we moved here; borers moved in for the kill, and a quarter of one ash fell across our yard and beyond in a storm. They were a danger. We had plans to add onto the house anyway, and they were in the way. Down they all came.
The next spring, our woodpeckers came back. Where were their trees? Hey! And so, they ringed the ornamental pear out front: they pecked a series of closely-connected deep holes, most of the way around, to cut off the flow of the sap. A naturalist explained to me why: it wouldn’t be ready this year, but by the next it would be dead and easier to carve a new nest out of. Just the natural order of things adjusting to the new circumstances. The sap oozing out attracted ants, which would provide food for the birds.
I heard them going at it, but didn’t realize till later where they were and what was happening. The pear tree suffered, badly; half the leaves turned quickly brown and we were sure we were going to lose it. It is hard, at times, for someone who grew up in the woods like I did to live in such a city place as it is here, and I need every tree; I didn’t want to lose this one, too.
The next year about a third of the leaves that came out grew to only half their normal length before giving up and turning a shrivelled brown. There was just not enough sap getting through with that break line in the trunk.
Same thing the next year.
But by now it has been a dozen years. I hope the woodpeckers have long since found a new spot; this tree was far too close to the ground for them anyway, the neighbors’ cats could have reached them where they pecked it. But. Somehow that flowering pear, not much more than a sapling when it got ringed, survived the process, and it grew and bloomed more and more just the same.
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