You would think that, after the devastating hurricanes of 1996 and 1999, Wilson would have few trees left for high winds to topple. But everywhere I go now, I see trees down and damage to homes that stood in the falling trees' paths.
I spent the day that Hurricane Irene struck and several days thereafter in Rocky Mount and did not get to see much of Wilson's damage. In terms of damage to the electrical grid, Rocky Mount clearly had it worse. There were still hundreds of Rocky Mount customers without power days after Wilson Energy announced its lines were fully restored. But that doesn't mean that there weren't many, many trees down on Wilson houses or across Wilson streets. Stately old willow oaks were twisted and wrenched from their trunks in many Wilson yards. Or big trees were ripped from the ground, their monstrous root ball exposed to the air. Some pines were snapped off high above the ground. In my yard, we had limbs and branches down, but the trees somehow managed to withstand the wind. We are worried about one sassafras, however. Its roots were lifted and partly exposed, and we could not pull the tree back to a fully upright position. I used an electric chain saw to trim back the tree and bring it more upright. We're hoping it will survive.
We want these trees to survive because they provide shade and charm to a neighborhood. That's why older neighborhoods, with stately trees and canopied streets look so much more appealing than stark new streets without a tree in sight. But there are dangers. Trees have a life span, and they incur diseases that leave them hollow and brittle. Add a little wind, and you can have a 70-foot obstruction in the street or a cleaver that chops off a roof gable. Still, if you look at Wilson from the seventh-floor board room of the BB&T Towers, you see green trees stretching to the horizon with a steeple or roofline here and there. The carpet of treetops seems as impenetrable as a shield. Those trees of our urban forest are our best antidote to the pollution created by our cars, trucks, power plants and furnaces. Without them, our streets would be barren, our yards inhospitably hotter and our air dirtier.
That's why I hope all of the trees lost to Hurricane Irene, as well as those toppled by Floyd and Fran, will be replaced with healthy, long-living and beautiful trees so that our landscape will always be charming and inviting.