I have enough experience with small engines to know that the sounds my push mower was making were terminal. I lack enough experience with small engines to know exactly what was wrong. It didn’t matter: the engine made a sudden, sickly “hwangggg!” sound and lurched to its final rest.
Thankfully, I also have a tractor, so I could still cut my grass last Friday evening. As I drove it around the yard, I stole glances up into my trees, which are just starting to bud and leaf. My yard is heavily wooded, trees reaching 60 feet or more into the sky, three or four dozen of them. They veil the house and keep it cool all summer. But on this early spring day, branches mostly bare, I looked up for signs of damage. I saw signs in so many trees. So many.
When I first mowed a couple weeks ago, I noticed a few trees missing bits of bark in large patches. I thought it odd; I grew concerned. So I researched it on the Internet. I learned that this is called “flecking,” and is caused by woodpeckers feeding on insects underneath. The number one delicacy for which woodpeckers fleck trees is the emerald ash borer, a green Asian beetle.
These bugs bore under the bark of ash trees and lay eggs. The larvae feed on the layer under the bark that allows nutrients to flow through the tree. The tree starves and dies.
The ash borer probably entered North America in ash shipping boxes. Its natural predators don’t exist in the United States, so it has spread unchecked across 25 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. It threatens to wipe out the ash tree in North America.
I don’t know an ash from a poplar from an elm, but the arborist I brought in does. He told me that I have 21 ash trees, all badly infested with the borer. He told me they’ll all have to come out. He quoted a price equivalent to a modestly equipped new family car.
I drive a nine-year-old, paid-for family car because I’ve been saving to send my older son to Purdue in the fall. I’ve been living frugally for years in preparation, actually. But not frugally enough to solve this problem and pay for college without taking on debt.
After I finished mowing, I walked through my neighborhood looking for flecking in my neighbors’ trees. I saw distressed ash trees in every yard on my street and in most yards on other streets in my subdivision. The borer has borne down hard on my neighborhood.
My yard has more ash trees than any of them, though. And after looking closely at all 21 trees, I see some level of flecking in all but a few. My research suggests that this means the trees are too far gone to be saved. So now I must decide whether to remove the most damaged two or three trees every year for the next seven or eight years to distribute the cost — or ask for a steep discount to have the whole job done at once, perhaps over the winter when they’re not very busy.
I hope to move on from here within two to five years. I’d probably have to disclose this expensive problem to a buyer. It seems like biting the bullet and removing them all is the cleanest solution, if I can scrape together the cash. Paying for it will more than consume the equity I have in my home. In my neighborhood, home values haven’t recovered and may have continued to decline slowly after the housing bubble burst in 2008.
There’s no recovering from this. I’m just going to have to suck it up.
I now have enough experience with ash trees to know that mine are almost certainly terminal. I lack enough experience to know the best course of action. At least this makes unexpectedly needing to buy a new push mower seem like no big deal.