Pursued by Poplars

poplargold

poplarrowoct

poplartorches

poplarswinter

A row of Populus Nigra (Latin for “people of the dark”), otherwise known as Lombardy Poplars, seems to be following me.  I feel pursued by this long border of eighty-plus year old poplars on the west edge of our farm.  The trees themselves, supposedly nearing the end of a typical poplar life span, are grand massively tall specimens, their leaves and branches noisily reacting to the tiniest of breezes.  In greater winds, they bend and sway wildly, almost elastic.  The trees themselves are certainly not going anywhere in their hot pursuit of me, but beneath the ground is a remarkable stealth root system that is creeping outward, reaching inch by inch closer to the house.

That is what strikes fear in my heart.

If I leave those roots undisturbed for only a few months, they swell to arm size, lying just below the surface of the ground, busily sprouting numerous new little Populus Nigra along the length of the root.   These are no cute babyish innocent little seedlings.  These are seriously hungry plants determined to be fed from the roots as if from a fire hose.  They literally put on inches over a week;  they are over 6 feet tall in a month or two.   If I am not paying attention, suddenly I’m faced with dozens of new poplar babies, each sucking on a communal maternal umbilical cord.

I have no choice but to seek and destroy on a regular basis.  It is a shock and awe operation.  I’m shocked at the growth and awed at the strength of the adversary.   Many of these simply cannot be pulled up from the dust by hand as the process results in a root crawling many yards long, heading east toward the house like a heat-seeking missile.  To finish off the job, sometimes the root must be removed entirely by tractor.  I am here to certify that it is impossible to remove sufficient root system to stem the Populus Nigra tide.  It will always return, healthier than before.

I do have to admire this tree for its fortitude as well as its beauty.  As a wind break, it is unparalleled, its leaves melodious in the breeze.   It sheds its foliage as well as dying branches in the fall, messily scattering itself as far as arboreally possible, so tends to precipitate warming bonfires on autumn evenings.   Lastly, it makes for great artwork by the likes of Monet and Van Gogh, creating predictability, uniformity and symmetry both in their paintings and in the palette of our farmscape.

The poplars may be pursuing me but I enjoy the chase.  I gaze with appreciation at our row of poplars’ dark outline against the horizon during orange sunsets.  I miss their hubbub of constant activity when their leaves drop for winter.  Stripped naked, they wait in surreptitious silence for the rush of spring warmth and moisture to start creeping forward again, the gush of sap plumping up seedlings like balloons, once again growing clones against all odds.

My husband suggested it was time to take the poplars down before they break over in their old age, overcome in the strong northeasters.  I must disagree.  They deserve the chance to fight off our struggle to the finish to prevent infiltration beyond their defined border row.

Being pursued by a tree is never a bad thing.   I am humbled their shallow roots will likely outlast me even as I try to take them out, inviting me into the dust to join them.

 

Van Gogh Poplars in Autumnpoplars in autumn –Van Gogh

 

Van Gogh Avenue of PoplarsAvenue of Poplars — Van Gogh

From spring to autumn 1891, Monet devoted himself to the treatment of a new subject, the only one he painted throughout this period: poplar trees. He produced a group of about 20 canvases depicting the trees planted on the edge of a marsh situated on the left bank of the Epte, two kilometres upstream from Giverny. The site had been put up for sale during the summer, and the plan was to cut down these trees. After the mayor had refused to grant a reprieve, Monet found himself forced to pay a sum of money to the timber merchant to stop the trees being felled before he had finished the series. Having set up in a boat, he made the most of the perspective effect offered by the line of poplars, which followed the winding course of the river upstream, forming a kind of large ‘S’. He was then able to form decorative compositions that were built around curved lines and counterbalanced by the verticals of the trunks. Monet painted several sub-series, reproducing the trees face-on and reflected in the river, but sometimes he reduced the motif to the simple vertical line of the trunks. With this new series, the painter repeated the approach he had undertaken the previous year with the Meules. The titles echo those he had chosen for that first series. The aim was identical in both cases: to depict the variations in light and seasons. The ‘instantaneity’ of these paintings is meant to convey the impression one feels when encountering the subject at a precise moment. The poplars series was the first to be exhibited without any other painting, as a complete entity in itself, when it was shown in the Durand-Ruel gallery in 1892.

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