14 June 2008

Shooting up the 'hood

Our neighborhood is graced -- that word is not an overstatement -- by magnificent old elm trees. Each year, volunteers, with an assist from the city forestry department, innoculate them against Dutch elm disease. About a third of the trees in Eastmoreland are done every year, on a rotating basis.

I pictured a huge hypodermic needle, but this is how it works: With your trusty cordless Makita, drill a few dozen holes, at a 45-degree angle, in the roots at the base of the tree. Insert plastic nozzles. Attach a vial of innoculant to each one. Tap the bottom of the vial with a mallet to start the flow. Sanitize your drill bit before starting on the next tree. A cleanup crew comes by several hours later to pull the empty injectors.

We divided into teams of three or four and fanned out to take care of the 10 or 12 trees assigned to us. A couple of ours proved nonexistent; the old elms had fallen some time ago, but lived on in the forestry department database. We still had plenty to do. Our worksheets specified the number of vials per tree; a big one might take 40 or more. We went through about three hundred vials; that's a lot of drilling and tapping.

This could have been a model corporate team-building exercise. I worked with two guys I'd never met before. One was an experienced volunteer. The other was eager but marginally competent. I kept track of the vials, tapped my mallet, and made efficiency-improving suggestions using my non-judgemental voice. This is my strength, as my husband will attest.

It was an oddly satisfying way to spend a few hours on a beautiful Saturday morning. I feel like I've given something back to the trees that give us so much pleasure.

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