EcoAddendum

Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood
has just lost possibly its oldest tree – likely one of the oldest trees in the metro-Atlanta area.

Located along a boundary fence at 100 Daniel Ave, just a block and a half north of Memorial Drive, this tree was not particularly large. It was a post oak, a slow-growing long-lived species. It had a medium-sized crown and was only about 30 inches in diameter – but it was about 270-280 years old, the rings are so small they are hard to count (see photo).

This post oak had just been standing there, all this time, in soils from the old growth forest. When this tree spouted from an acorn, there was no United States, Thomas Jefferson had not yet written the Declaration of Independence, and it’s possible he had not yet even been born. Slavery had not yet become legal in the state of Georgia, and our entire area was still owned by the Muscogee Creek Indians. Fashionable European men wore powdered wigs – that’s a long time ago.

This tree was growing well before the Revolutionary War, it was spared the axe through early settlement days, through Civil War times, it still was spared when most of the Southeast was timbered in the late 1800s, and it was spared through the early platting of the East Lake neighborhood in the 1890s. And it still stood even through the waves home-building and neighborhood growth that took place in the 1940’s, the 1970s and even early 2000s. This tree was quietly living literally for centuries, perhaps unnoticed by people walking by, riding by on horses, driving by in wagons — it still stood quietly as the streets were paved and cars became common. It watched Model T Fords, then fin Pontiacs, then hybrid Priuses roll by.

It was just another tree in the neighborhood until it was cut down about three weeks ago, when an older house was torn down and the lot subdivided and bulldozed for two much larger new houses. Post oaks can live for 500 years or more.

This story goes on in Atlanta every day. Our urban forest is very special, almost 80% of it is located on residential properties, and we’re rapidly losing it to the latest trends of redevelopment and gentrification. The travesty in this particular case was that the post oak was located in a side yard setback, along a fence, at the boundary of the property, and though the Atlanta tree ordinance states a priority to save trees located in setbacks, and to save trees “to the maximum extent feasible,” it was approved to be be cut anyway.

But what we know from this, is that unlike other major cities, the old growth, original forest still survives here – in corners and pockets all over the metro area — in our yards, parks, and greenspaces. These elder trees, and the places where they stand, are the backbone of Atlanta’s special urban forest.

— Kathryn Kolb

Director EcoAddendumhttp://www.ecoaddendum.org

Before

After

Section of fine old growth rings

Every year we look forward to seeing the leaves change color, and fall gracefully to the ground. The hues of red, orange, and yellow are synonymous with fall for this very reason. So why is it that so many humans insist on ridding their lawns of these beautiful and valuable leaves? Many don’t realize that beyond aesthetics, fallen leaves harbor life. This article by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation shows the 
importance of leaf litter during our colder months.
 
As lawns and impacted areas take up more and more of our overall landscape, many species depend more and more on our yard areas for survival. It is important to consider leaving a layer of overwinter shelter for pollinator insects and other invertebrates. Not only do fallen leaves provide shelter, but they also act as a form of mulch, retaining moisture, preventing stormwater runoff, and helping to keep “weeds” at bay. If we each set aside a portion of our yard where we “leave the leaves” and let nature do its job, we can help stop the precipitous loss of our migratory song birds and other species. Insects are critical for the fertilization of plants and trees, and they serve as the mainstay food of most species of birds. Our biodiversity depends on the healthy natural cycle of leaves. 

 

Marti Keller has been a part of the Eco-A community since the very first nature walk around the lake at Stone Mountain. She and her husband Richard Cohen were attracted to the idea–and still are enthusiastically committed to– opportunities to spend time in our precious Southern Piedmont wilderness areas, especially in the urban Atlanta environment. She is a Unitarian Universalist minister in the Thoreau transcendentalist tradition. She was selected as a poet/artist in residence for the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Her most recent poetry collection is “Thinking in Haiku”. The following are several haikus Marti created including one inspired by the Eco-A Henderson Park walk.

 

Haiku on the trail

Beech trees coming in

Pipe vines, native magnolias

A very rich woods

 

Georgia Native Plant

We scramble down banks

Yell out: trillium ahead

small acts of rescue.

 

Speed Hikers

Thirteen grim hikers

in no way forest bathing

Do not see the trees.

 

Urban Woods in Early Winter

The trees are dimming

as they should in December

a dogwood still gleams.

 

Split Birch

Inside burnt-out tree trunk

High up in its black bowels

a mushroom flowers.

 

Wiser

Twenty-five years here

Once fooled by acres of green

Kudzu invasions.

 

Savant Slope

Some natives burst through

the English ivy hillside

Ancient defiance.

I came to know the nat­ural world ini­tially through the encour­age­ment of my par­ents, who both claim nature-friendly fam­ily tra­di­tions. When my par­ents, brother, and I moved to the coun­try­side out­side Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia in the late 1960s, we had no imme­di­ate neigh­bors and walked to our friends’ houses through the woods. We rock-hopped creeks, kept half-an-eye out for snakes, car­ried sticks to (respect­fully) relo­cate spi­der webs that seemed always to span the trail at face level, and learned many of the native plants and trees. My mother, in par­tic­u­lar, ensured that our vaca­tions included nat­ural areas, and we made many vis­its to the moun­tains of west­ern North Car­olina, home to most of her fam­ily. By the time I was in high school, our fam­ily moved to a forested moun­tain­side fac­ing the Blue Ridge Moun­tains where my par­ents still live today, and where I often visit and make photographs.

I sus­pect grow­ing up in the Great East­ern For­est (or more accu­rately, in its frag­mented remains) has helped to shape my vision by forc­ing me to focus more inti­mately to express the essence of the bio­log­i­cally more com­plex but geo­log­i­cally less dra­matic land­scape of the South­east­ern US. Unlike in a grand west­ern vista, the view of a water­fall on a moun­tain­side in the East is likely obscured by hun­dreds of species of trees, shrubs, vines, and other plants that sur­round both the falls and the pho­tog­ra­pher. It seems a nat­ural pro­gres­sion to focus closer in on just the trees them­selves, or even on par­tic­u­lar branches and leaves — there are so many dif­fer­ent, inter­est­ing shapes! Another incen­tive for close-in fram­ing comes from avoid­ing urban power lines (and the prun­ing mal­for­ma­tions near them), which limit the field of view to the extent that one is fairly forced into the abstract in order to visu­ally make sense of the few remain­ing purely organic areas.

All life forms are cre­ated as the math of the uni­verse endures our planet’s tri­als of hot, cold, sun, shade, water, drought, and time to achieve the func­tion of sur­viv­ing. Every species of tree or plant has a dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent look, leaf shape, or angle at which twigs or leaves emerge from branches, and all is chore­o­graphed for endur­ing and pros­per­ing. And each life’s form is shaped in part by the shapes of all the oth­ers. The shape and color of flow­ers are influ­enced by the shapes of the insects that pol­li­nate them, and vice versa. Did plants become trees by out­rac­ing dinosaur appetites or each other’s need for light? Even the unique suc­cess of human­ity, an anthro­pol­o­gist might say, comes from our hands with those con­ve­nient oppos­able thumbs that spurred on our minds which grew big invent­ing new things to do with our hands — and it is the trees that gave us our hands. When your hand falls by your side, even at rest your fin­gers will instinc­tively defy grav­ity to grasp an ancient limb.

I am always aim­ing for the point at which design and mean­ing inter­sect seam­lessly. Find­ing the visual rhythms in nat­ural forms is a way of gain­ing a glimpse of the greater design we can barely per­ceive — that we don’t have words for — that con­nects us all. I feel that my strength as a pho­tog­ra­pher is not so much in cre­at­ing some­thing new, but in notic­ing how things are.

– Kathryn Kolb