A 300-year-old tree succumbed this week to the forces of fungi, gravity and the seasons. As we see on Page 1, the oak, which stood over Holmes Road, lost two large sections in unexpected collapses Tuesday, and had to be cut down.

Now town officials – and, no doubt residents with old trees in their yards – are eyeing other aging trees, looking to test them and possibly cutting them down if they pose a danger.

It certainly is a reminder that if you have old trees with limbs hanging over your house, you might want to take a look. But it’s also a reminder that trees are becoming rarer in town, and we’re largely to blame.

It is a sad and surprising thing to see a tree ripped asunder, though it was a relief to learn that no one was injured, and only a little bit of property was damaged.

Trees are a part of Scarborough’s heritage and history, and as the town approaches 350 years of existence, so do many of its trees.

They are the survivors, the ones – like Elsa the Elm in front of the Exxon station at Oak Hill – who are literal links to the past. Elsa, in fact, is estimated at 185 years old – a spring chicken! – and is registered on a national list of historic elm trees. The plaque at Elsa’s base reads in part, “This tree is hereby designated a historic landmark to be honored and preserved for future generations.”

More trees should have signs like that one.

As housing developments go up around town, more trees are being cut down and not replaced. It certainly is easier for builders to put up homes without trees in the way, blocking the movement of workers, supplies and machinery.

But it shouldn’t be that hard for developers or new homeowners to put in trees to help replace those cut down to make way for homes.

We all remember walking along tree-lined streets when we were young, playing in the shade and even climbing tall trees in our yard or the neighbor’s.

Trees are not only good for the psyche; their shade helps homes stay cooler in summer without air-conditioning; their leaves provide fertilizer for grass and plants (not to mention exercise for homeowners and their children); their photosynthesis freshens the air and improves its quality.

But as Scarborough’s young people grow up, those in the newer sections of town don’t have all that, and it’s a shame.

Part of that is nature at work, taking down what it has built up, as it always has. But as people spread out across more and more of Scarborough, we’re taking the trees down too.

If the ones we have start giving up the ghost, and we don’t replace them – not just in special areas for wilderness, but right in our own yards – we will be the poorer for it.

Jeff Inglis, editor


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