It’s a beautiful spring day in Saugerties. The clouds are friendly, the sun is beaming, and I’m blessed with some righteous 65-degree weather. Life is good. I’m on assignment to find the coolest trees in all of Saugerties. It’s pretty hard to define what a “cool tree” is. I know what cool sneakers are; a fresh pair of high top Adidas with icy fresh color combinations. Cool trees? I have no clue. My old high school field biology teacher had an infatuation with cool trees, but truth be told, I never paid much attention in her class.
Walking around town, I see plenty of trees. Big trees, little trees. Boring trees. Most trees don’t have leaves yet; they just stand naked as a jaybird with their branches facing up, looking like a thousand fingers to heaven, patiently waiting to bloom.
Nothing of note, really. Until I get to the corner of Washington and Finger. Oh, glory. Here are two of the most remarkable trees I’ve ever seen. Standing tall and regal in front of Donna Vale’s house are a red Japanese maple and a copper beech, both unusual specimens in their own right.
“You can hardly find a red Japanese maple anymore,” said Vale.
Most Japanese maples have been bred to produce green colored leaves. But this variety possesses stunning clouds of fingerlike, blood-red leaves. Even without the foliage, the tree is impressive. The trunk is low and the branches fan out wide, curved at the sides like a bowl.
Its partner, the copper beech, is about as tall and just about as striking. “They say that they (the trees) are 150 years old,” said Vale. “Copper beeches are fairly unusual around here.”
They certainly pass muster with me. Is it something you don’t see every day? Check. Do I wish I could see it with leaves? Yes. Does it add something special to the property? Of course.
Vale’s house is entwined with more Saugerties environmental history. The house, known as the Vottee cottage, built in 1887, originally stood near Saugerties High School, and was surrounded by the trees that were recently removed from the premises. The house was moved in 1910 to its current location.
More undeniably cool trees are the black locust and tulip trees in front of the historic Kiersted House. They’re not particularly tall, and they’re not very beautiful at this time of year. In fact, they’re tragic looking. Right now, they look old and lost, branches growing in every direction, a gang of geezers standing unruly and skeletal in front of the Kiersted house. Soon enough, though, they’ll shape up. When the grass grows gamma ray green in the summer sun, the trees will fluff up considerably and lend a grand frame befitting one of Saugerties’ proudest sights: Kiersted House.
The tallest tamarack tree in Ulster County, which sits on 45 Lafayette Street, on the property of Gerard Blundell, also makes the cut as one of the coolest trees in town. The tree stands apart in the neighborhood. Scan the Lafayette Street tree line, and nothing looks as triumphant or as defiant as Blundell’s tamarack.
“We moved in around 1962, and the tree was forty or fifty years old then,” said Blundell.
There are a few other trees in Saugerties that catch my eye. One is a low, pink willow on Finger Street overhanging a few headstones. Another is a confident and healthy sapling on Main Street that I think has a lot of potential.
People of Saugerties, be proud of the green that surrounds you this Earth Day. Check out the trees, enjoy the flowers, take a walk in the park and drink it all in. You’ll be glad you did.
A morbid post-script
Earth Day and Arbor Day aren’t just about appreciation: they’re also about conservation.
The Hudson Valley is in the throes of an invasion; the emerald ash borer, an invasive species that has cut a swath through the ash tree population of Michigan and Ontario, has made its presence known in Saugerties.
The insect has already killed north of 30 million trees. Since it’s so difficult to kill, and only proven method of insecticide treatment is not practical for large numbers of trees, scientists are looking into releasing natural predators, like tree wasps.
Facing extinction, the ash tree is in a rough spot. Some trees can be protected, but obviously not all. Concerned citizens are working on a plan to defray the cost of ash tree removal by conducting on site milling and auctioning the best ash hardwood to the highest bidder.
It is notable that the oldest Ash Tree in Ulster County sits at the foot of Lighthouse Drive. Saugerties is under threat of losing history, as it did when the Dutch elm disease claimed many of the trees that lined Elm Street.