Last chapter for an old friend

By Rita La Doux

The St. Anthony Park Library lost a dear friend recently — the graceful white oak that had stood on the front lawn more than 150 years.

We all remember the towering tree framing the library building. It stood in that spot since even before the library was built in 1917.

In recent years pileated woodpeckers were chipping away at the tree. Then, over successive years, the tree’s foliage began dying out on its upper branches, although it didn’t show any signs of oak wilt.

By last summer, June 2023, the audience at the St. Anthony Park Arts Festival music stage had to move across the lawn chasing shade that had once been provided by that majestic tree.

As sad as it was to admit it, it was time to take down the tree.

The St. Paul Public Library arranged for the tree removal. It is a difficult expense to cover when libraries are stretched to pay for books and staff, but buildings and grounds are where those books and staff find their home. In this case, it was fortunate that funds were available to remove the dying tree.

A highly-skilled and careful crew from Hugo Tree Care removed the white oak on Jan. 30, just as children and families were gathering for Tuesday Storytime with Alisa Mee.

Watching the teamwork of the cutter — high in the tree with bucket and ropes and chain saws — and the log loader on the ground with the giant claw, was the perfect activity to observe for young children taken with all things construction.

Max, the working arborist, piloted the bucket and did all the cutting. He has been cutting trees for five years. He coordinated the effort between the cutter in the bucket and the ground crew clearing space and using ropes to carefully and gently lower the huge branches to the ground. It seemed like an aerial ballet — Cirque de Chêne.

We are fortunate to live in an urban forest — especially in the northern section of St. Anthony Park. Some parts of the neighborhood have old stands of oak and other hardwoods, but while other areas were planted — starting when developers began plotting out the streets and housing in the late 1800s. We must not take these stately climate-friendly shade-providers for granted.

Ben Halverson, a certified master arborist at Hugo Tree Care, emphasized we need to be more observant of our trees. That’s especially true in the last few years when the trees are under stress with mild winters followed by high heat and drought conditions.

This coming summer, trees will be particularly vulnerable. Be sure to water regularly and call in the experts for routine assessment and maintenance — trimming and upkeep — to assist in tree longevity.

When planting or replacing trees, Halverson recommends planting true quality hardwoods. They take time to grow, unlike their softwood quick-growing kin. But the long-term value of the tree will be much greater with healthy hardwoods.

The next generation will thank us. And so will the trees — with shade and beauty. 

Rita La Doux is on the board of the St. Anthony Park Library Association.

Photo credit: A work crew recently removed a dying giant white oak from the grounds of the St. Anthony Park Library. Photo by Rita La Doux.

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