Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Nightmare on elm street

I'm not a horror movie fan. Once, during my junior year of high school, I went on an ill-advised date with my then-boyfriend (also ill-advised, but that's another post unto itself) to see A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge. Why I went, I'll never know; I hadn't seen the first installment, so I had no burning need to find out why Freddy needed revenge, or how he would get it. I spent most of the movie in a semi-fetal position, with my knees obstructing my view of the screen, whimper-whispering, "Is it over yet? Is it over yet?"

In retrospect, I'm re-evaluating my initial impression of that movie. It's not a psychotic undead killer with razor blade fingernails and a complexion in dire need of Mederma that's so horrific after all. No. It's contemplating the possibility of an entire street lined with elm trees. Let me elucidate.

When we first moved to The Big Red House (as Jimmy calls it) almost two years ago, we were in love with the beautiful mature maple and elm trees providing ample shade to the property, but dismayed at the state of the front lawn. Half of it was missing. Apparently the previous tenants had been parking on it and their tires had dragged gravel up from the entrance of the alley right next to it.

In spite of the fact that we were only renting, I wanted a nice lawn for Jimmy to play on, so I spent a sweltering week in September going at that half of the yard with a pick ax and a hoe, breaking up the soil, turning it under, re-seeding the lawn, and fertilizing. In spite of the rocky soil, the grass sprouted and grew, and that side of the yard began to look a little less forlorn. I felt modestly pleased with my hard work.

Then fall came. The big tree above my new patch of grass dumped an immense load of leaves, and when I got a bad cold that hung on for a couple of weeks, I couldn't keep up on the raking. Enter the fall rains, followed quickly by snow (because fall lasts about five minutes where we live) and a thick, choking blanket of elm leaves was sealed on, suffocating the tender new lawn.

Spring arrived and I got out with a garden rake to pry off the dried, hardened layers of leaves. Surprisingly, some of the grass had survived, but it looked rather mangy. Then in mid-spring, something horrific occured that I never anticipated: the elm tree started to bloom. Dogwoods are lovely when they bloom. Cherry trees have inspired a thousand haiku with their delicate blossoms. Not elm trees. No, when an elm tree blooms, the only inspiration in mind is to put a tree removal service on speed dial. Within a week, the surviving lawn was stifled in a deluge of small, round elm seeds. Then it rained, and the elm seeds turned to a pasty mulch the consistency of cold oatmeal. After weeks of rain, my poor grass was once again choked under a layer of elm debris, and emerged even mangier than before.

That is why I say the notion of an entire street lined with elm trees is far more terrifying to me than any Hollywood-concocted horror monger. Now I can see why the former tenants parked on the lawn: they had given up. The onslaught of elm seeds and elm leaves, spring and fall, year after year, had worn them down. I could no longer judge them for parking on the lawn because now, I too, knew of the dreaded elm. If ever hell had an official tree, the elm it would be. But for me, it became personal. I had sowed the seed, watered tenderly, and watched the grass grow. I was a woman with a mission. I would never resort to parking on the grave of my grass.

Fast forward to the following fall. I was hyper-vigilant with the rake. Come rain, come sleet, I was out there, even if I had a cold and my nose ran like a faucet. I was on those elm leaves. When the winter snow finally settled on our lawn, I was pleased to see that it was virtually leaf-free. Now spring is here again, and the elms are blooming. I've got my rake at the ready to attack and keep my poor lawn from suffocating yet again. Wish me luck; I'm going to need it.

Behold the mighty lawn killer, largest elm in our yard. For some idea of the scale, that's Jimmy and the goodly-sized two-story Big Red House next to it.

Elmcare.com euphemistically calls the Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila) a "dirty tree" and elaborates that "Many arborists consider the Siberian elm an undesirable street tree due to its weak wood and prolific seeding." You're telling me. Our trees just barely started seeding, but here's a small sample of the aftermath from last year's seed dump.

A clump of three smaller elms in the far back corner of our yard.

This is the only one of the elms that actually pulls its own weight by providing hours of solid entertainment for Jimmy. See that stuff that looks like snow falling? Those are the seeds. They fall like that, 24/7 for about two weeks. Yep.

Here's what happened to the one elm tree that got in the way of Jim's satellite dish TV. Kinda makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside just looking at it. But I'm not bitter.

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