Oh those ducks! Canada Geese, to be exact, but oh, those geese ... squawking like AFLAC commercials! Dropping small remembrances that look like tiny Jackson Pollack canvases all over Fletcher/Silver Walk, below the great green that slopes down to it behind Roberts, Union, and Jones Halls...Bill Astifan's arboretum crews fenced the Duck Pond this year, east of Fletcher/Silver, to kind of discourage the birds from grazing the hillside and fowling (sic) the turf and walk...but CGs have minds of their own...or mini-resonating chambers, anyway: "Dumb! Those birds are dumb!" says groundskeeper Mike Pavlikowski affably, as he struggles to put in a Weeping Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Covey'), just east of the Pond. It's a replacement for an old cherry tree that was doing badly, and so had to be removed...
The CG, whose numbers are down to about 85 birds now, half of what there were before the fence went up (it annoyed them that much), spend the bulk of their time floating on the Pond, but occasionally leave the water in a great, splotchy flock and land on the green — or on Buttercup Hill a little further along — every few days. No one is sure why. To eat the grass, most likely. For a change of perspective, maybe. And to escape the rough justice meted out by the occasional red fox, who will sneak in among them at the edge of the water and take one sleeping; or the snapping turtles, thought to be eradicated a while back, but who seem to be present again in small numbers...
"They have everything they need here, water, food, and the weather isn't as harsh as it is back home," Mike speculates, already sweating heavily at 9:50 a.m. He'd dug out a cherry tree root system the day before, donated by the Class of '85, in memory of Howard Taylor and Susan Durnford Snipes, with a backhoe. The tree it supported shaded a bench provided by Barbara Keer for her father Stan...Stan Keer, 1935-97, until he passed away, used to come and sit on it and contemplate Haverford's vista...To complicate matters, the Keers had their own cherry tree nearby, but it was sort of leaning, Pisa-like, and not thriving either ( the Snipes tree was in even worse shape); still, Barbara Keer wanted her dad's bench under the Snipes tree...Since neither was flourishing in the relatively low, damp ground around the DP, the species switch seemed a good idea to Martha Van Artsdalen, the College's plant curator; Claudia Kent, the arboretum supervisor; and Carol Wagner and Charlie Jenkins, both staff horticulturists. Working with Keer's widow, they chose the Cercis canadensis...The idea was to "replace non-native trees with native woodlands [specimens]," Van Artsdalen said, via e-mail. (Louise Tritton is doing similar "refurbishment" of native species on the grounds around the president's house). Jim Ward, of the John Ward Tree Experts company of Bryn Mawr — which handles prunings and takedowns for Haverford College — reports a campus wide plan to get rid of nuisance "foreign" trees like Norway Maples, which work like weeds and crowd out other species with overly aggressive root systems...kind of arboreal snakehead fish.
Mike, a horticultural assistant, was trying to get the Covey into the ground at the right depth: "If you plant too deep over the root flare, disease can come in — moisture, insects...you want her just a hair higher than the surrounding soil [without exposing too much of the flare]. Then you make a kind of ring around the tree [with a spade] to service [the Covey] like a cup, sloping down, and funnel whatever water she gets — rain or from us — to the roots." To facilitate the latter, Pavlikowski fastens a waterbag with a slow-drip gadget-bottom to the trunk that slowly leaks into the ground: "It's a more effective way of watering, more continually nourishing [than just coming by with a water truck and hosing the tree.] Uses less water, too." When he's finished the "implant," Mike tromps on the soil in the ring with his workboots, facilitating a little sloping ring-ridge: "This is basically how you plant any tree." His hours, during the hot months, are 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Unfortunately, of the 1,698 trees on the College's computer rosters (exclusive of the "wild" trees in the forested areas on campus), 15 to 25 a year may be lost to weather, disease, natural disaster, or aging, and that doesn't count the 10 to 20 non-native trees eradicated under the above "nuisance-control" plan (30 to 40 new plantings counteract the extrusions). The fates of three famous Haverford specimens in 2005 illustrate some of what goes on in the arboretum's daily work skeds:
The Squirrel Tree:
Last January, toward the end of the Winter Cycle pruning program, Claudia Kent and Carol Wagner noticed some rot at the base of the Squirrel Tree, which was just slightly into the woods off Fletcher/Silver Walk, past the green where the CGs do their thing. The ST was a dead cherry tree, stripped of its bark in 2000 and turned into a wood sculpture by chainsaw artist Marty Long, at Norm Ricker's suggestion. It featured "black squirrels" chasing each other around the trunk, charred by Long to create their natural color against the reddish wood. But in examining the tree, Carol saw a certain "sponginess" at its base, "it looked like sow bugs — little critters with hard shells that eat rot? — were going to town down there." When Jim Ward of the John Ward Tree Experts company came in to have a look, he recommended the ST come down "because I saw Shoestring Root Rot [one of 50 kinds of fungus decay that prey on trees] pretty far advanced, we knew the roots were dead" [and that the whole thing was a menace to passersby in high winds or other heavy weather.]
The top of "Old Squirrely" had been lost back in 2000, leaving just a great hole — and precipitating its conversion to a symbolic artwork. Marty Long carefully did his carvings, then added a coat of polyurethane to preserve the trunk. But the bottom of the tree was unprotected, and so gradually fell victim to Shoestring, Black Rot — black strings of circular "shelves" that look like mushrooms — Bract's Fungus, and all the other harpies of arboreal insalubriousness. The decision was taken by Astifan and his predecessor, Norm Ricker, now Director of Special Projects (who'd always loved the Squirrel Tree), to let it rest in the Facilities Management garage until the Douglas B. Gardner '83 Athletic Center is completed. Then, the idea is to polish it up with a new coat of polyurethane or epoxy base seal, mount it on a concrete stand with a metal support system, and either 1) move it to a place of honor in the new lobby, out of the way of nature's buffetings; or 2) (Ricker's preference), mount it outside the west athletes' entrance of DBG '83, and make sure it's maintained better than it was in the woods. Meanwhile, "She's just lying on the [garage] floor here, quietly," Carol Wagner jokes.
The Olde Sugar Maple:
"I am sad to report that the last of the original maples along College Lane [originally 'Maple Lane' — at its intersection with College Circle], needs to be removed", Bill Astifan announced to the campus on June 23. "The tree has gone into serious decline and now poses a serious safety hazard. I have given the approval to John Ward, Inc., to remove this tree right after July 1..."
The Olde Maple dated from 1834, '35, or '38 — accounts vary — but anyway, shortly after Haverford's founding. It had survived two major ice storms in 1907 and 1910, which severely damaged it by striking off limbs which healed badly, and was scheduled for removal in 1911, "but the College did not have enough money to remove it then," Astifan reports. "This tree overcame the damage from the ice storms and most diseases and pests only to lose out to old age, decay, and some very active ant colonies..."
These would have been carpenter ants, dire harbingers indeed, since they tend to show up in bad rot to gnaw complicated chambers in the foul wood of dying houses and trees, like body larvae in corpses. Jim Ward first got acquainted with the Sugar Maple 10 years ago when he removed some dead limbs and attached steel support cables to strengthen the tree: "What happened was that a large limb had broken off [sometime back], and never healed properly. A cavity formed. Then any of these 50 kinds of fungus can attack, and you develop a major problem..." By the time he was called in to examine the tree this year — part of a regular rotation that divides the campus into five pruning zones, he could see that the situation was terminal:
"I went up the tree. We took down a big limb, maybe 20 inches in diameter. There was a lot of wood decay. Evidence that a bad storm break could take the cabled limbs down, too. [I-bolts had originally attached the cables supporting the limbs, but the crucial tension on the cables, always hard to adjust, had altered since installation.] I went to the base. Spongy. Punky. The fiber was not intact. The root system was decayed to the point where the whole tree could be rolling out of the ground in a bad windthrow..."
Ward saw Bill Astifan and Claudia Kent to tell them the tree posed real problems. They decided that with summer camps beginning shortly, and with the volume of traffic on College Lane and College Circle, the tree would have to go.
The Ward crew used a 30-ton crane to lift off parts cut from the top. The 90-foot tree shortened slowly, in 15 sections, secured by nylon straps. Some limbs alone were 25 feet long. At the "wishbone" level, the tree was split from the left, and then the right. The main stem was cut, literally picking it apart...A melancholy sight.
And then a big stump grinder came in to chew up what was left...
The Bald Cypress:
The 75-foot Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum), one of the most noble trees on campus, located just across from Barclay Hall near Founders, unlike the Squirrel Tree or the Sugar Maple, was in excellent health: "It had 107 rings and was doing fine," Astifan says, recalling its demise. "You can't do much about lightning, though."
On July 15 at around 5:30 p.m., during a bad storm, an electric bolt, seeking to go to ground as quickly as possible, as lightning is wont to do, struck the BC at its very top: "Cypresses love water," Jim Ward, who subsequently took the Taxodium down, too, observes. "There had been a fair bit of rain, and this tree was growing vigorously, its root systems were charged with water. It provided a good target and an easy ground." The bolt hit so hard it was as if an artillery shell had struck..."the full charge ran down the center of the tree, and the lightning sucked all the moisture out at once..." The shock literally electrocuted the Cypress. It imploded. Died instantly. The top broke off at about the 40 foot level, and the sharded remains littered Harris Road. (Luckily, some young ballerinas, staying at Barclay and Roberts Halls for the summer Dance Camp at the Rock School in Philadelphia, who'd been playing near the tree, were shooed inside as soon as the rain started.) A man in Founders basement, who'd been having a spirited discussion just as the storm gathered, found his concluding remarks punctuated by an otherworldly CRRRAA—aaccK! "My listener thought the end had come," he smiles now.
It's been an unusual summer, lightning-wise. Ward says he had three struck trees on August 15, off campus, as well as Haverford's hits (another big tree went down on Railroad Avenue several weeks ago.) Before that, he'd had only four in a couple of years... "What's the reason?" he laughs. "Bad luck."
The remains of the Bald Cypress were blocking the roadway, and the blighted tree itself near the other stately trees of the green near Founders Hall — a great Bur Oak near Harris Road; young and old Scarlet Oaks (Quercus coccinea) outside President Tritton's office windows; or even the White Pine (Pinus strobus) further away at the head of College Lane, near the front of Sharpless — shown badly in comparison. Removal was practically and cosmetically urgent.
The trunk had cracked into four quarters, and fallen over by itself, like a dreadful, hard banana split. First all the limbs had to be sawn off and dragged away; then a chain binder had to gird the trunk so the tree could be pulled into position; finally the dismembering had begun, and the great Cypress broke jaggedly into painful-looking units, to be trundled to oblivion. Its stump, however, retained some Cypressian elegance, and since it was broad enough to dine on, survived until August 18. Then the decision was made to grind its roots out, too.
[That Bald Cypress] "was 'adopted' by Charles Rankin '39, a member of our Arboretum Association," recalls Martha Van Artsdalen. "[He] remembers it being outside his window when he was a student living in Barclay; adoption funds go toward tree care and maintenance costs."
History & Prospects
The Welsh Quakers, who founded Haverford by buying up a series of farms here in 1833, brought in the famous English landscape gardener William Carvill in 1834 to design a plan to replace its 216 acres of tilled fields, woods, and pastures, using trees to frame and where possible complement natural space. He bordered lanes with alleys of trees, planted groups in odd numbers, and spotted them with grape arbors and serpentines in the grand English tradition of Sir Humphrey Repton — whose ideal was to suggest a tamed, ordered, natural look, civilized certainly, but without the formal excess of some of Britain's great estates and public places — the unpolished charm of, say, 19th century Hyde Park vs. the formidable eclat of, perhaps, Balmoral Castle's grounds.
Carvill's influence is honored, and some of his original trees are still growing, including a Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) at Roberts Hall, and the huge Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) near Magill Library, so hoary and delicate now that building expansion had to curl around it, Kong's fist protecting old Fay Wray. A Campus Club formed in 1901 to help preserve Haverford's first look, and its work led to the founding of the College Campus Arboretum Association (CAA) in 1974, which is thriving in the same pursuit: since 1928 the Ryan Pinetum devotes 18 acres on the southwestern boundary of the school to the scientific study of conifers, with more than 300 species arranged according to genus and family. Over 1,400 trees have been labeled for those wishing to go deeper into the matter, among them such Pennsylvania State Champions (and former champs) as a Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) by the fountain at Walton Field, and two "contenders," flanking the Hall Plaza steps; a Hinoki False-Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) near the back corner of Roberts Auditorium's east side ; and a Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda), at the start of the Pinetum's northwestern corner, the College Avenue side of the Nature Trail.
"We always replace a memorial or gift tree if it dies," Curator Van Artsdalen clarifies, "so the annual loss of trees is nowhere near as serious as it might at first sound — though because of building [the new Douglas B. Gardner '83 Athletic Center, among others], we're down somewhat [in terms of growing room] from the 2,200 trees inventoried since the process was started about 15 years ago ... So for example, both of those cherry trees we talked about in the beginning will be replaced ... and we always replace specimen trees like the Taxodium distichum [Bald Cypress]...We also plant young trees near old specimens [Tom Tritton's Scarlet Oaks], to perpetuate [the look] of the historic landscape..."
Director Astifan, who has run tree operations at Haverford for the last seven years, and who was previously Director of Facilities Management at the Medical Center of Delaware in Wilmington; Superintendent of Parks for the City of Wilmington; and Assistant Super for the City of Albuquerque Parks Department in New Mexico, feels he found "a nice home when I came here...there's a chance to practice real arboretum science, the school is easy to work with [adequately funded and scientifically engaged], and the crew is great ... The hardest part of the job? Preserving Haverford's heritage while balancing new construction needs. All schools have that to some degree, but Haverford — you feel the past is living with you here..."