If you’ve lived on the High Plains of this country, you know that trees can be a scarce element. In the eastern parts of Nebraska and Kansas, there are native trees, nurtured by rivers and creeks, sheltered in the somewhat rolling landscape.
As you leave that eastern strip, however, the land gets flatter, water less abundant and trees more rare. In the cities and towns, the existing trees were planted, introduced into the environment. Continue west and the flat land begins to rise and the trees disappear: the roads stretch ahead in long ribbons rising to the horizon with no trees in sight.
In northwestern Kansas, home to my homesteading forebears, the first homes were made of sod. When wood structures were built, the lumber had to be shipped in. Those who remember best cringe whenever they see an old homestead abandoned, its wooden walls crumbling into the dirt.
They also cringe about the damage the current drought conditions are doing to those treeless plains. They remember or have heard horror stories about the Dirty Thirties.
I spent the first 22 years of my life in that environment but learned about living among trees in Northern California, England, Germany and France.
Later I moved to Houston, Texas, a city of trees – big ones – live oaks and some pines. From there I came to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, located in the heart of the loblolly and longleaf pine forests that once stretched from East Texas to the Atlantic Coast
The neighborhood we chose to live in here, Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood, was one with late 19th and early 20th century houses built from the native timber. The lawns are decorated by azaleas and camellias with wide sidewalks lining each street, passing under huge water oak trees, nearing the 100-year-old mark.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, residents of this reviving historic neighborhood organized into an association, formed to not only protect the characteristics of it but to promote its revitalization.
At the heart of that revitalization was an effort to not only protect the old water oaks trees, planted at the turn-of-the-century by the first residents, but to begin replacing the ones starting to die. Die they surely would, because the life span of a water oak is not much more than 100 years.
On it’s own and sometimes with the assistance of state forestry grants and the city tree division, HHN launched a campaign to keep the neighborhood green and to add to it new pocket parks and replacement trees.
The campaign was a planned one with the aid of a resident landscape architect as well as the Mississippi Urban Forestry Commission. Because of the presence of power and cable lines, the overall plan called for planting the large live and willow oak replacement trees only on the right-of-way areas with no lines. On the sides with overhead lines, crepe myrtles were planted to add seasonal color.
A major aspect of the campaign was the formation in the 1980s of a conservation district, possible when the city adopted an ordinance providing for such local districts. The designation of HHN as the first city-protected conservation district provided design guidelines for the exterior of houses and also banned the change and/or removal – without permission of the Conservation Commission — of any major landscape features in the neighborhood, especially the trees.
When HHN bought the building and grounds of an abandoned public school located in the middle of the district, it developed a landscape plan for the grounds, planted it with a variety of oaks and other trees. Established as Walthall Park, these grounds were dedicated in perpetuity as green space under the oversight of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Why am I writing about this topic right now? For one thing, our country and world is in a crisis of climate change with increasing – dangerous — amounts of carbon dioxide, something trees and grass take in and use.
Primarily, however, I am concerned because our neighborhood and its protected trees are once again under attack by the tree trimming company that contracts with Mississippi Power Co. We thought we had come to an understanding with the power company about what the trimming company, Asplundh, would and would not do.
Recently we found out that if there were an understanding, no one on the trimming side remembers it. We also discovered through information from Tallahassee, Florida, and what has happened there, that the inappropriate – brutal – trimming of trees around power lines is not necessary at all. For example, such drastic pruning encourages faster regrowth that doesn’t conform to the natural pattern of the affected trees.
The inappropriate trimming affects not only other local historic districts, but the entire city as well. The city is responsible for protecting all trees on city rights-of-way.
Mississippi Power Co., needs to educate those who oversee tree trimming about these issues. Residents of HHN, other local historic districts and throughout the city are deadly serious about protecting the trees. They will not stop their efforts to protect our resources. Neither should you.