This article appeared in the Lewiston, Idaho Tribune on 3/27/90. I checked with Bill Hall, the writer, yesterday and he gave me his blessing to share it. I hope you find it amusing and can maybe use it to educate some of your friends and neighbors.
"Dear Bob, You are welcome to post the tree pruning column any way you see fit. I won't cut you back to size if you do. I assume you still have a copy. If not, here's a spare:
PUNISH YOUR TREES IF THEY DARE GROW TALL
Byline: Bill Hall
As a resident of Lewiston-Clarkston the tree-butchering capital of America I have come to realize that some trees are too tall.
They deserve to be punished for that. If a tree won't keep its place, you have to cut it down to size.
Or so I gather after 25 years in this town. For some odd reason, the people of this community prune their trees more severely than people do in other communities. People here plant a tree, water it, fertilize it and if it dares to grow, they'll cut the top off it.
But why? Where did this town get its abnormal fear of tall trees?
That question occurred to me again the other day in a Clarkston Heights yard. My host pointed out a blue spruce with its pointy top whacked off and complained about the tree's stubborn tendency to grow. ''I have to keep cutting it back,'' he complained.
''Why?'' I asked.
''It keeps getting too tall,'' he said.
''Too tall for what?'' I asked, sincerely puzzled. There was nothing above the top of that tree but sky no roofline was being crowded, no power line. The tree could grow five miles and encounter nothing. ''It's just getting too tall,'' he said. ''I have to keep cutting it back so it doesn't get out of hand.''
What does ''out of hand'' mean? I don't know but I have heard that expression more than once around here: ''I gotta prune that tree before it gets outta hand.''
I could understand that if the tree is over the hill, has terminal crotch rot and is about to fall on the driveway where you park your cherished 1988 Yugo.
I could understand pruning off a limb if it is growing through the rumpus room.
And I could certainly understand thinning some of the limbs out of a tree. We all need our hair trimmed. But that doesn't mean we need our head cut off.
Nonetheless, the people of this town will chop the top off a tree even if it is out in the middle of an acreage a quarter mile from the nearest building, threatening nothing but low-flying jet planes. I think people here believe any tree that gets too tall will turn mean and roam the neighborhood killing dogs, getting even for past insults.
Sometimes I fear the people around here have small horizons. They don't know how high the sky is. They think a tree that gets too tall will poke a hole in the sky and let in all that cold air from outer space. Some fool in Lewiston Orchards let a poplar get out of hand year before last and half the pipes in the valley were frozen.
Actually, poplars and other fast-growing trees may have something to do with it. A lot of the people who settle here myself included are from families that moved here from the Midwest. Our families came out of that region in the era before the plant magicians had developed so many trees that would tolerate frigid temperatures and dust bowls and Republicanism and other extremes of nature common to that part of the country.
That explains why there are still older people around to this day who regard rhubarb and gooseberries as fruit. And that explains why there are still people around who will actually eat green tomato relish. They've never heard of ripe tomatoes.
The choice of cheap shade trees was limited just a few large, rambling, fast-growing trees like poplars and maples and black locusts. You could plant them next to the house in April and by August they would have grown 150 feet and fallen through the roof of the house during one of the weekly tornadoes. Or they would have got hit by the daily lightning storm. When you grow up in a land like that, you learn real fast not to let your trees get out of hand. That's how so many of us here came to fear tall trees.
Other towns thin their trees. This is a basic redneck town. Most of the men and some of the women have crew cuts. We like our trees the same way. And if the rest of you don't agree, write a letter to the editor. however, if it's too long, we'll cut it. We don't want people like you getting out of hand."
Reply to post by Bob Underwood, on February 01, 2000 at 10:33:45:
Regretably, this practice is not limited to Lewiston, Idaho. It is rampant throughout the Pacific North West. It is impossible to drive more than a few blocks in most of the developed areas out here and not see "shortened" conifers. Theoretically, educating the owners and managers of trees about the ill effects of "topping" trees should have reduced the rate at which is is happening. A great number of PNW ISA members spent a large amount of money in advertising after the "Inaugural Day Windstorm" of 1993, to educate people about this practice and advising them to seek the advice of certified arborists regarding their trees. The net result? The tree toppers and butchers realized that, potentially, they were losing business to certified arborists and went and took the exam. Now it is quite common to see ads in the "Tree Services" section of the local yellow pages with ISA Certified Arborists advertising "topping". I have even had calls from people, who have told me on the phone that they want their trees topped properly!!! It is a shame that ISA cannot nullify certification status in instances where bad practices are being advertised, advocated and/or expedited.
Reply to post by James Causton, on February 01, 2000 at 10:33:45:
Jim, keep in mind that not everyone uses the term 'topping' the same way. I've had many clients request 'topping', without really knowing what they are asking for. I find they often mean "prune or cut the top, the way you are supposed to do it." They don't know how we consider it as a technical term. Sure there are some who know it and think it is right and proper ("it's the way my granddaddy did it"), but most just haven't been educated.... yet.