Friday, November 19, 2021

Sidewalks: Silent killer of great oaks

Scott Carlini in the Cook County Forest Preserve.

     Scott Carlini rides west along Bloomingdale Avenue on a lovely mid-November day. At 79th Avenue, we detour south and park our bikes before a wide tree stump where the night before Carlini had penciled “White Oak” and “163 yo.”
     He points to the center of the stump.
     “Here’s the little tree, 160 years ago,” he says. “If you notice, the rings are really small here when the tree was young because it was in a crowded forest. Then in 1926, they came in here and cleared out the forest and started building some of these bungalows. Once the area was opened up to more light, then we’ve got the big rings, because it grew a lot faster.”
     Carlini knows trees, but then he’s spent years biking around Elmwood Park, neighboring suburbs and Chicago, trying to save trees, particularly ash, which he sometimes injects with his own formula of anti-emerald ash borer insecticide. Carlini cuts a distinctive figure: long hair, neon orange vest and stocking cap, Pall Mall cigarette often in one hand.
     “Oh boy, oh boy,” he says, sadly. “See here? Where they filed the roots away. That’s super bad. It’s stupid.”
     The white oak fell victim to a human ailment — the conviction that sidewalks must run straight.
     “In the old days, we used to move the sidewalk around it,” he says. “Normally this tree would have lasted another 200 years if it wasn’t damaged. But some sidewalk guy ground that away, and that’s not cool.”

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  1. Being a cabinet maker by training this delightful piece sent me down a wormhole ive visited before : reliably differentiating between white and red oak. before the tree is cut down its fairly easy , you can tell by the leaves. after its milled into boards its more difficult and as it turns out the color of the wood isn't the best indicator. A magnifying glass is often needed to examine the end grain.

    Anyway I just bought a few boards of white oak at Owl hardwoods in Des Plaines. I took their word for it.

    1. FME Most commonly planted Fraxinus species had been native Green Ash with similar American Elm & Sugar Maple 300 yr lifespan.

      But it's our American White Ash with 600 yr lifespan similar to White Oak which has always been most sought after for it's species hard but bendable qualities and blond golden grain milled lumber.

      Baseball bats,Golf clubs, wood tool handles, car frames,flag poles, bows etc. Producing a distinctly dark stained almost bulletproof Heartwood expanding outward from center of trunks maturing sapwood once surpassing age 50.

      With so many trees lost to Emerald ash borer last 15 years. I had been lucky enough to Personally witness the inner wood of several thousand Green & White Ash trees while being felled on site and when witnessing large 8'-12'foot long trunk bolts stacked 35 feet high and City block long sitting at marshalling yards scattered throughout Chicagoland.

      An astounding 85% of Ash trees between ages 90-160 had been completely rot free. Yet very little of this massive resource had been taken advantage of, with most ground up into mountains of wood chips.

      With Ash traditionally everyone's cut off live tree and burn firewood containing only some 15% moisture content. I continue to get the word out to forested land owners how their living Ash trees should be harvested before succumbing to EAB otherwise internal trunk wood begins separating vertically along natural wind stress cracks. And anyone using wood inside a smokestack fireplace should allow one year drying time to prevent dangerous creosole buildup along chiminy walls.

      American Ash and Woody paneled station wagons...
      Here is an interesting yet tragic recent story involving famed Mike Nickels’ Automotive Wood Restoration in Traverse City, Michigan

  2. In case anyone missed this week's letter to the editors:

    The Save Your Ash coalition's useful website:

  3. Skip Saviano continues his streak of living off the public's teat. I love hearing stories of dedicated citizens like Scott Carlini who do their best to take care of their environment.

  4. Great story. Glad you didn't wait until January to take a bike ride with him. Very interesting. You meet some very interesting people.

  5. I’ve spent many hours (on foot), for many years, on the forest preserve trails, and I’ve never encountered the “interesting” situations you seem to assume are common. Perhaps I just live in a boring area. Or one where the activities take place a good distance from the trail itself.

    1. I was tempted to note the reference to "interesting," as well. As we all know, however, I'm much more restrained than our EGD buddy, Coey! ; )

      Since she brought it up, I would concur with her observation, though a.) I'm guessing I haven't spent nearly as much time in the forest preserves as she has, and b.) I've often been biking rather than walking. That being said, the preserves certainly seem to have a reputation, and, as she mentioned, there's a lot more territory off the trails than on or near them...

    2. Back in the innocent dinosaur age (earrly Sixties), my kid sister used to ride her pink-and-white Schwinn to the horse stables west of Old Orchard. If my memory is correct, that forest preserve was known as Harms Woods. She would ride a horse on the bridle path and then hike or bike on the trails that snaked through the foliage. Alone. She was eleven.

      Even that long ago, there were sketchy folks in those woods. Maybe she was just lucky. Nothing ever happened to her. Other kids were not so blessed. She didn't tell our mother about those sojourns until she was in her thirties or forties. Of course, Mumsy was horrified.

      When Sis told me, I told her something else. About the teen-aged girl who was last seen at a hamburger joint at Clark and Devon, and whose body was later found in those same woods, not far from those same stables.

      That girl she wasn't the only one. The whole area, as far west as Morton Grove, later became something of a dumping ground for Chicago murder victims. Women and girls, who were often assaulted and strangled. Gangbangers who messed up. Even a couple of Mob wiseguys.

      Like I said, Sis was lucky. I knew better than to go into the Forest Preserves alone. During high school, it was "greaser turf"...just as the beaches belonged to the "jocks" and the "preppies." Even now, I'd steer clear of all but the parking lots and the picnic groves. "Interesting" people are often lot like the winter and spring weather that the TV weather forecasters describe as "interesting"--that word usually means an experience you neither want nor like.

  6. Interesting column. Hadn't really thought about how a straight sidewalk might kill a neighboring tree, though I'm familiar with both roots buckling the sidewalk above and some locations where sidewalks bend around trees.

    With regard to trees, forest preserves and neighborhoods, I saw this cool photo a couple days ago, highlighting the difference between the forest preserve on one side of the street and the Chicago neighborhood of Wildwood on the other. Taken just north of Devon and Caldwell in 2018. The replies to the tweet offer speculation about what accounts for the difference in coloration.

  7. Beautiful tree photo, although it didn't seem so at first glance. And marvelous that so much can be inferred from very little evidence, correlating the physical structure of the tree rings with data as to the history of development (i.e. tree removal) of the area.



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