Lesson from a Dead Ash Tree

The nature of nature

This Ash tree suffered the terrible wrath of the Emerald Ash Borer. Cut down before its prime.

The Backstory

Once a great ash tree forest inhabited the area around my house… only a small amount of sun touched the grass 8 years ago on my acre of land.

There are a lot of photos with this story, and I must warn you… if you like trees, this story will be sad.

With over 50 trees between 35–40 years old, the yard was a perfect retreat on a summer day underneath the tree canopy. Don’t believe me?…

I took this photo on August 6, 2012 looking up in my backyard.

Or how about this one…

Swinging in my front yard on June 25, 2011

Yes… that’s a swing hanging from a big ash tree. Man, I miss that swing.

How about a BEFORE photo of half the front yard taken from our second floor window. Notice how wooded the right side of the driveway near the road. In case you were wondering, those are ALL ash trees. Okay, except for the awesome Dawn Redwood in the bottom right corner.

Front side yard in June 2009

Now take a look at the AFTER of the same space… all that is left now is a landscape littered with stumps.

This is not the type of stump garden anyone wants. Photo taken December 2016.

How about a side-by-side comparison… depressing! What a difference 7 years can make. We bought a mature wooded lot; now, it’s a baby tree lot.

Before and after the ash borer ripped through Etna and Pickerington, Ohio

I’ve been planting 2–4 trees a year for the last 6 years, but the younglings just can’t grow fast enough to keep up with the number of dying ash trees.

The Object

Emerald ash borer hole when they’re ready to bust out and fly on

Little, green bugs eat the ash trees’ lifeline between the bark and the trunk, while carving paths of destruction before busting out and creating these odd shaped holes.

Thank you emerald ash borer.

There’s no stopping them, as they are immune pesticides and pro-destruction. The only thing to do is keep planting more and more trees.

It’s crazy to think that such a little bug can do so much damage and to only one type of tree. They’re not much bigger than your thumbnail, after the larvae come out from within the tree. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I took a photo of an emerald ash borer on one of my trees in 2013…

The Emerald Ash Borer on one of my trees. June 23, 2013

So, there it is. It is devastating to see what they do under the bark of a tree. The eat the nutrient-supplying channels between the bark and the core of the tree, and it chokes to death. Carving paths like a pile of spaghetti beneath the surface… just look at this…

The path and wrath of the emerald ash borer

Let’s zoom in. Here’s a close up of what the borers do…

The trees have no chance. The only thing that can be done is to cut them down and use the firewood. If there is any bright side, ash wood is one of the best types of wood to burn… low sap, fast-drying, and burns hot enough that the ashes are a fine, powdery dust that can blown away with a lawn mower.


For every tree that comes down, I take the time to count the rings. I don’t know why… maybe it’s a way to honor the fallen. To know how old it was before it died. To find out what years were good growth years and how old I was (or would be if I was born yet) when the tree started to grow.

The early years were good it seems… the 1980s and 1990s showed consistent and wide ring growth on multiple trees in the same years.

But the rings got significantly smaller within the last 5–10 years… to no surprise. The last few year’s growth only measured a millimeter or less a part from one to the next…

Rings get closer and closer as the tree ages into its last few years of life.

What was once a mighty tree, strongly rooted against the winds, and a protector for all things under its canopy, nature has taken away. I suppose it’s the circle of life and the nature of nature, but it still sucks.

The Lesson

Trees are awesome. Maybe in a past life, or maybe in a future life, I would be like The Lorax… a speaker for the trees… and just like in the Dr. Seuss book and the 2012 movie, I could offer a little bit of hope or at least a comforting presence to those that mourn the loss of a good tree.

It may be hard to imagine what good can come from the death of millions of trees, but let me take a few lines and share some life lessons.

The Take-aways:

  • Often, we need to let nature run its course.
  • No matter what protections are in place, there is always something that aims to destroy.
  • The nature of nature is to change. We need to adopt and adapt.
  • Visit an arboretum frequently to celebrate and appreciate our trees.
The best trees are the ones you wish you planted yesterday.

There are many resources where more can be learned about the borer and the ash tree devastation. The website emeraldashborer.info, the Ohio Department of Agriculture, and the United States Forest Service offer a lot of great information.

RIP ash tree… may you come back someday and prosper.

Written by Shaun Holloway.