Saturday, February 16, 2008



Edward Thomas, First Known When Lost, is the latest installment in the series of literary reactions to arboricide:
I never had noticed it until
'Twas gone, - the narrow copse
Where now the woodman lops
The last of the willows with his bill.

It was not more than a hedge overgrown.
One meadow's breadth away
I passed it day by day.
Now the soil is bare as bone,

And black betwixt two meadows green,
Though fresh-cut faggot ends
Of hazel made some amends
With a gleam as if flowers they had been.

Strange it could have hidden so near!
And now I see as I look
That the small winding brook,
A tributary's tributary, rises there.
Thoreau, Journal (Feb. 10, 1857), tells an amusing tale about the eradication of a willow hedge:
When I surveyed Shattuck's Merrick's pasture fields, about January 10th, I was the more pleased with the task because of the three willow-rows about them. One, trimmed a year before, had grown about seven feet, a dense hedge of bright-yellow osiers. But MacManus, who was helping me, said that he thought the land would be worth two hundred dollars more if the willows were out of the way, they so filled the ground with their roots. He had found that you could not plow within five rods [sic] of them, unless at right angles with the rows. Hayden, senior, tells me that when he lived with Abel Moore, Moore's son Henry one day set out a row of willow boughs for a hedge, but the father, who had just been eradicating an old willow-row at great labor and expense, asked Hayden who had done that and finally offered him a dollar if he would destroy them, which he agreed to do. So each morning, as he went to and from his work, he used to pull some of them up a little way, and if there were many roots formed he rubbed them off on a rock. And when, at the breakfast-table, Henry expressed wonder that his willows did not grow any better, being set in a rich soil, the father would look at Hayden and laugh.
The roots of the willow are so tenacious and invasive that there was a 19th century Illinois statute (still on the books as 605 ILCS 5/9-108) prohibiting the planting of willow hedges on a roadside:
Where willow hedges, or a line of willow trees have been planted along the margin of a highway, so as to render tiling impracticable, the highway authority having jurisdiction of such highway may contract with the owner for their destruction; and they shall be destroyed before tiling. The planting of such hedges or trees hereafter on the margin of highways is declared to be a public nuisance.

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