Anatomy of a Storm

Why some trees stood their ground while others toppled

On the way back to his pickup truck, Johnson stops in front of a young Norway maple no more than 20 years old. He appraises the tree suspiciously. Two of the branches show signs of having included bark. One of them is so damaged, a dark line stains the tree all the way to the ground. Bark ribs out around the stain-evidence of the tree straining to cover over its rotten wood. Johnson knows what lurks beneath the outer skin. A few roots have poked up above the surface of the soil, and it's clear they're beginning to wrap the trunk. He points out a dent near the soil line where the roots have compressed the trunk. To make matters worse, the tree stands on a narrow boulevard, blocked by concrete on three sides so it stakes claim to only a tiny patch of dirt. "This tree," he says finally, "is an accident waiting to happen."

David Kern

He glances ominously at the house that stands down-wind from the menacing maple. It's a tidy Tudor with a lovely porch enclosed by cantilevered glass walls. The tree, if it fell tomorrow, wouldn't quite reach the house. Should we tell them? Johnson shrugs. In his experience, people hate to see even bad trees cut down. "People," he says, "just love their trees to death."

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