Wit's End

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

This Petty Place

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.  Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Handprints in the El Castillo cave in Cantabria, Spain, made 40,000 years ago

Although there is much new in science to add to the saga of tree decline due to air pollution, the convulsing pace of climate disruption - and the convincing evidence that it is too late to do much about it, even if there were a collective willingness to do so, which there isn't - tends to make premature tree mortality less and less relevant.  There are three numbing trends that I find especially overwhelming, because they are threatening in the extreme, and have lately been deemed irreversible.

One, is the melting of Arctic, and the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, until recently predicted to be stable for another hundred years or so.  Two, is the related slowdown of the AMOC - the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation - and its likely role in the frigid cold that has yet to completely relent to spring on the US East Coast, where I live...with the prospect that it is going to continue for the foreseeable future...as is Three - the California drought.

Of course I know there are so many other existential threats, all around the world - drought in Brazil, melting glaciers, ocean acidification, climate refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, deforestation, sea level rise, habitat destruction and wild endangered animal poaching, economic collapse, war, and much, much more - but those three are the ones that are closest and most paralyze me with stark dread.

Even so, I feel obligated to record the mounting death toll from falling trees, since nobody else will.  Literally, no insurance company or government agency maintains statistics tracking deaths and injuries from fallen trees.  Why?  Because it almost never used to happen.  I noticed there have been several fatalities recently, and anticipate it will become a noticeable pattern in the not-to-distant future.

High winds are normally fingered as the culprit when trees fall, blocking roads and causing property damage, power outages, and personal injury - even when they obviously have holes in their trunks, a sure indicator of interior and root rot, like this specimen that toppled in Tennessee Sunday night.


In their report, the Weather Channel blamed "straight-line winds" for two fatal tree falls - even though there was no wind.  One article about the incidents described them as "freak accidents":

"Two freak accidents involving falling trees, some 460 miles and hours apart, claimed the lives of two women in Cincinnati and Atlanta over the weekend, officials said."




The greenish grey lichen, a pervasive indicator of decline, is visible in photographs.



In video of a news interview, a witness to the April 19 incident in Bond Hill said the tree should have been cut down.

"Witnesses said the tree uprooted and fell across four lanes of Reading Road. There was no warning the tree was going to fall."

"'I saw when the tree came out the ground. The lady was doing her regular speed limit on the street. You just had an old tree that was there that needed to be cut down. If you look at it you could tell that it was dry-rotted,' witness Mannie Everage said."


The second victim was a 60 year old school teacher, who died when a tree fell on her Atlanta home. Again, there was no storm or wind at the time.


Thunderstorms and wind were blamed for downed trees in Birmington, although the photograph featured in the news story reveals a severely rotted tree.



Another tree featured in the news for this time period, this one in East Point, is also clearly rotted.


Last week, a tree crushed a home in Marietta, trapping two women for hours as firefighters labored to cut them free of debris.  One was airlifted to the hospital.  There didn't seem to be any connection to wind, according to neighbors who listened helplessly to the screams of the victims.




Earlier this month another fatality occurred in Kentucky.

"The severe weather was blamed for the death of 45-year-old Catherine Carlson, who was camping with family at the Natural Bridge State Resort Park in eastern Kentucky early Friday...A massive tree limb hit their tent, killing Carlson and injuring her husband but leaving their three children unscathed. Brian Carlson, 46, was taken to a hospital in critical condition."

Images of fallen trees that are rotted can easily be found in media from many places of our dwindling biosphere, Earth.  This accident occurred in Poland:


 ...and this one in Moscow:


Expect the carnage - and the wildfires - to accelerate until there are no trees left to burn.

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