Friday, July 15, 2011

Sycamore v. Lightning

Yesterday when I pulled up my email, I was alarmed to discover a missive from the university landscape architect. He was passing along information about one of the sycamores that stands in The Row.

Early this past Monday morning, a storm passed through Ames and lightning struck one of these beloved trees. As nearly as I could discern from my past research on Sycamore Row, these fast-growing, native North American trees were planted just after the turn of the 19th C. and they are now nearing the century mark. When I opened the email and read this upsetting news, I shot off a quick note thanking Chris for the heads up, then jumped on my bike and headed over to campus to check out the damage.

Yesterday was my birthday and I had heard from family and friends from all son Evan called from Vietnam to sing "Happy Birthday"! This sycamore business had the potential to put a real damper on what was turning out to be a very nice day. I wasn't sure I wanted to see one of these massive trees down. I should back up by saying that the land architect had attached a map and fotos, but I never opened any of them. I wanted to find the tree and see for myself the damage.

I spotted the stricken tree from a distance. I was sick when I realized I was still a good 1/2 block away and the yellow gash loomed ahead. As I approached and came up under the canopy, I could see this amazing "imprint" of a forked lightning bolt carved into the trunk. The gash actually looked like someone had taken an implement and carved a rugged one-inch deep by two- to three-inch channel from top to bottom of this 75-foot tree. There were large "splinters" lying to the northwest of the tree in an explosive pattern on the path and the hillside across the path, but no scorched earth or smoky tree parts were found. Hmmm.

The good news is that this did not appear as deadly as I had envisioned. I remembered a plants prof telling me that as long as the bark of a tree is not girdled 360 degrees, most can repair their protective covering and live on. I felt OK about this particular lightning strike.

As I stood and took in this magnificent sight, it reminded me of one of the literary conflicts...this one a twist of Nature v. nature. Over the past 100 years, I would bet these trees on the floodplain of Squaw Creek have lived through a lot of weather. And they are still standing.

I hope this story has a good ending. I can only imagine what the scar tissue will look like after this wound heals. Twenty years from now someone will touch this peculiar lesion shooting up the trunk of the reptilian-skinned tree and marvel at its strength to withstand such a splendid strike.

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