Mark Hayward's City Matters: A tree once grew on Blodget St....well, into it
Nature exists, even thrives, in our cities, but only by making some accommodations.
Squirrels frolick in lawns and parks, where acorns and birdseed abound. But they can't be crawling into basements and houses to birth and raise their young.
Rain falls and makes its way to the sea, but through our sewer drains and culverts.
Meadows — with all sorts of weeds, wildflowers and critters — don't do well here. But a lawn gets all the fertilizer, water and care it needs, as long as it surrenders any hopes of height and diversity.
Conform, our city says, and thrive.
So it's not surprising — some would say it's a long time overdue — that a wayward silver maple on Blodget Street felt the sting of a chain saw earlier this month.
To say the tree was "on Blodget Street" is no exaggeration. Decades ago, it was obviously planted in the right of way — the grassy 4-foot-wide strip located between sidewalk and roadway.
But like an errant teenager, the tree took off in its own direction. Giving no consideration to Blodget Street, or the motorists who travel the road, the tree grew into the road. When cut on May 3, its trunk was 4 feet into the street, gobbling up about 15 percent of the public way.
Its stump remains there today, still formidable. In fact, city workers have placed a protective marker atop it to designate the hazard, lest any late-night, curb-hugging motorist end up getting waylaid by a tree stump.
The stump shows scars of previous accidents. Neighbors said snow plows have clipped it. And it was so monstrous that it would dam up stormwater, backing it into the driveway and lawn of Joan O'Brien, the closest homeowner to the tree.
"It got to the point where we considered it a hazard, a potential hazard," said Parks Director Peter Capano, whose job includes taking care of city trees. "We wanted to get it before it came down and did some damage."
Capano estimated the maple was 80 feet tall and about 75 years old. The city paid Boisvert Brothers Tree Service $1,500 to remove the tree. The stump shows extensive rot, starting from a street-side buckle in the bark and moving inward past the center.
"Every storm we had, a branch would come down and we'd lose power," said Andy Keniston, who lives across the street from the tree. He said the tree housed racoons, skunks and possums, along with squirrels and songbirds.
"It's just old. It's what happens," he said of its demise. "It's sad to see an old majestic tree go, but it was dying and on its way out."
O'Brien said he was happy to see it go, given the stormwater backups.
"I've been trying to get rid of it for years," she said. About 10 years ago, a city official looked at the tree and said it was fine. Then three years ago, the city tore up her street to put in new gas lines. Residents ended up with a new pavement, but rather than address the tree invasion, workers just paved around the tree.
Even last year, a city official came to look at the tree. He basically said O'Brien could have it removed, but the city wasn't going to do so, she said.
Then on May 3, Boisvert Brothers showed up and the tree was history.
Capano said it was just time. From time to time, the city heard from motorists concerned about the potential traffic hazard.
Blodget Street does get its share of traffic. Smyth Road runs into Blodget, so traffic associated with the VA Medical Center, Smyth Road School and McIntyre Ski Area all ply the street. Hooksett teenagers use it to get to Central High School in the morning.
I walk my dog there in the morning. The mayor drives down Blodget on his way to work.
It's tough to pinpoint the exact age of the tree. Counting rings sounds easy. That's until you look at them, and they resemble contour lines on a White Mountain map rather than neat concentric circles found in botany textbooks. And the rot in the middle of the tree makes it nearly impossible to count the early years.
Most of the houses on the street near the tree were built in 1930 or the early 1940s. So if the tree were planted when the houses were built, that would make Capano's estimate of 75 years reasonable.
Meanwhile, another errant silver maple remains standing, just a few hundred feet up from O'Brien's tree. It too barks its presence on Blodget Street, preferring the roadway to the right of way. (What is it about Blodget Street? sweet tar?).
Public Service of New Hampshire has kept it trimmed, and its long trunk reveals a couple of amputations where strong limbs once stretched outward. But it would be best advised to stay off Blodget Street. The city is watching.
"It's safe. It's in good shape," Capano said, "we'll keep an eye on that one, too."
Mark Hayward's City Matters runs Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.