“October’s poplars are flaming torches
lighting the way to winter.”
~ Nova Bair
“I remember it as October days are always remembered, cloudless, maple-flavored, the air gold and so clean it quivers.”
Leif Enger in Peace Like a River
Reblogged from September 2010:
Our eighty-plus year old row of Lombardy Poplars (Populus Nigra –Latin for “people of the dark”) on the west edge of our farm seems to be following me. 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 move not an inch in their hot pursuit of me, but beneath the ground is a remarkable stealth root system that is creeping outward, trying to edge closer to the house.
This is what strikes fear in my heart if I don’t resist: I’d have poplars springing alien-like through the floorboards in my kitchen if I didn’t pay attention.
If we 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. Suddenly I’m faced with dozens of new poplar babies, each sucking on a communal maternal umbilical cord.
We 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 do have to admire this tree for its fortitude as well as its beauty. As a wind break, it is unparalleled, its branches and leaves melodious in the breeze. Autumn sets it aflame, a golden torch, soon to messily scatter its foliage and dying branches as far as arboreally possible. And it makes for great artwork by the likes of Monet and Van Gogh, creating predictability, uniformity and symmetry in their paintings as well as 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 stand silently waiting for the rush of spring warmth and moisture to start creeping forward again, ballooning seedlings with a rush of sap, fearlessly growing clones against all odds.
My husband suggested it was time to take the poplars down before they snap off in their old age, overcome in the strong northeasters. I disagree. Chopping them off at the base and pulling them out by their roots would be cruel and unsporting of us. They deserve to struggle against our fight to the finish to prevent their infiltration beyond a defined border row.
I’ve accepted that those shallow roots will likely outlast my efforts to stem the poplar tide. Eventually I’ll be pulled face first into the dust by their undertow and there I will remain.
As I see it, if you can’t beat them, join them.