Today we'll discuss our city forester, Jim McGannon. In the interest of fairness, you need to know that he's a good friend. I would never, ever, for example, even dream of making fun of him. As a matter of fact, if you look up the word "friend" in the dictionary, you'll find a picture of Jim and I.
He's the one on the left, with the hairy back.
Anyway, our village forester has been in the news lately. Because of the lingering drought, many of our old, majestic trees have been stricken by disease and are now dying. Some of them were planted by village founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer himself. Historians say that as the trees grew, the general often spent time in their cool shade, sharing a big metal bucket of lemonade with his horse, Tippy, until the late afternoon. Then the two of them would wander into the intersection of Platte and Nevada avenues, stop, take a big leak and bring traffic to a standstill. A statue commemorating their strange behavior still stands in that location.
But now, many of these oaks and elms that line the medians and curb areas of our downtown streets have an incurable illness and will soon die. This makes them a lot like Ali McGraw in the early '70s tear-jerker film classic Love Story. Except, of course, the trees are better actors.
McGannon has ordered his staff to cut down as many as 200 of the huge trees. Some have already come down. The rest will be cut in the fall.
Footnote: The trees will be processed into paper and used by local thumbtack salesman Ed Bircham to jot down those brilliant, Abraham Lincoln-like thoughts that appear each Monday in the daily newspaper. Coming this week: "Me, Ed Birchhamm, Don't Like More Traffic. Or Puerto Ricans."
Taking some heat
With this decision to cut down trees, McGannon is taking some heat. A story last week in the Gazette seemed to put some of the blame squarely on him, saying the trees were being cut down "despite protests from homeowners."
Our highly esteemed City Council even questioned this decision to remove the trees before returning to its regularly scheduled weekly business: blindly rubber-stamping another sprawling housing development with water-sucking bluegrass lawns, on land where trees once stood.
The mere hint that maybe our city forester is a bit chainsaw-happy and uncaring about the environment caused great laughter among those who know him. Because when it comes it comes to the environment, to the natural world, and specifically when it comes to trees, well, McGannon is a lot more than just concerned.
On fishing trips, for example, he'll often narrate the drive by pointing out the names of tree species we pass along the way and talk about how life as we know it would be impossible without trees. Over the years, this kind of thing has an effect. A few months ago, for example, we were going fly-fishing. And about 40 minutes into a McGannon speech about "the wonder of shade," I began thinking about things I'd never really thought about before. Specifically, I thought about throwing myself out of his moving pickup truck.
My son, a friend of McGannon's son, was invited to join the McGannons on a ski trip to Breckenridge last winter. My son had this to say about the ride: "For two and a half hours he talked about trees. And squirrel nests."
'All of us benefit'
So, in light of the recent news about trees in our village, I stupidly called McGannon on the phone at his home -- he lives on about three acres with a multitude of meticulously cared-for trees -- and asked him asked to talk about, trees. He began by discussing Dutch elm disease and how it's spread by a fungus coating on a creature called a bark beetle. He talked about how the disease eventually gets into a tree's vascular, or root, system, and begins infecting all nearby elm trees because their roots are typically grafted together in one big community of roots.
As he went on and on about how once Dutch elm disease strikes, you either cut down the infected trees or do nothing and lose all the trees in the neighborhood, I found myself actually using what is known as a "forest product" -- propping my eyes open with wooden toothpicks.
Then he started talking about how foresters constantly monitor the health of trees by looking at the leaves on the trees' crowns, at which point I quietly put the phone down, snuck out of my house and re-shingled my roof. When I picked up the phone later in the day, McGannon was still talking about trees.
"All of us benefit from healthy trees," he was saying. "I'll give you an example. I met last week with people who were understandably upset about the trees being cut down in front of their homes. We were standing in the sun and it felt like we were cooking. There was a big cottonwood nearby and one of the neighbors said, 'Let's go talk under the tree." We walked under that tree and it was like instant air conditioning.
"For me to stand under that tree and experience the cooling effects it provided, the natural cooling effects of our environment, well, it made me feel good. It reminded me why I'm in the business of forestry, the business of caring for trees."
The village is lucky to have a guy like this, a guy who treasures trees. And it makes me feel bad to hear people criticize him -- although not as bad as I felt on his birthday last year, right after I quietly backed that truck onto his heavily treed lot in the middle of the night and released those 200 starving beavers.