Removing the locust grove

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(Host) Pruning and thinning trees is a common spring chore but this year commentator Edith Hunter got a little carried away.

(Hunter) After Graham cleared around the young maples outside our sugar house to encourage their growth, a larger project suggested itself to me. Why not take out the grove of towering locust trees in the same area. A couple of them were 90 feet tall forming an overstory above the maples.

When a tree crew came in early April to prune our apple trees, I asked them to look at the locusts. Would it be possible to remove them without crushing the sugar house, destroying the young sugar maples, and knocking down the telephone pole and wires going to the house and barns?

“Oh, I’d do it from the top down,” said the crew leader. After carefully looking over the seven trees he quoted a very reasonable price for cutting down the trees, chipping the brush, and cutting up the rest for firewood. He would get to it in a week or two.

When I told my naturalist daughter my plans for the locusts, she said they were probably black locusts, not honey as I thought. She said that they are a valuable wood because of their durability.

That sent me to a tree book. I learned that they were indeed black locusts: A rapid growing, slender tree 60-80 feet high, light demanding, with thin, lace-like foliage, bark deeply furrowed, spreading by underground roots, forming groves over small areas. The wood is strong, a valuable timber tree useful for fence posts, telephone insulator pins, etc.
Very durable in contact with the soil.

A few days later I was describing the locust removal project to my neighbor Willis Wood. Willis has a small sawmill and he indicated an interest in buying the logs. He reaffirmed the durability of the wood. He told me about an early failed Virginia settlement in which unrotted locust posts were all that remained.

Toward the end of April the crew arrived with a huge truck with boom and bucket, a smaller truck, and a chipper. The lead man climbed into the bucket with a chain saw, a smaller pruning saw worn like a sword, and ropes. Starting as high as the boom would go, about 65 feet, off came the side limbs, received below by the ground crew and fed to the chipper. The first five trees were down in short order. The two remaining trees were a challenge.

With ropes strategically looped over the highest limbs he climbed out of the bucket, hoisted himself up the tree another 20 feet, took off the small branches with the pruning saw, revved up his chainsaw, and cut the limbs above him. How tiny and fragile he looked against the sky!

Thoreau wrote in Walden: I would that our farmers when they cut down a forest felt some of the awe which the old Romans did when they came to thin, or let in the light to a consecrated grove. I certainly felt awe watching that skillful acrobat.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont.

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