An Ode To A Landmark Copper Beech, Recently Felled

Nov 26, 2020

The town I call home, West Hartford, has lost a dear old friend.

Exactly how old? Well, it’s hard to tell, really — but 150 years, for certain.

That’s actually not that old for a copper beech, known to stand tall and wide for centuries. What remains now, no matter how imposing, is a stump.

What was it about this beech that makes its absence so palpable? True, it was magnificent, its foliage dense, its reach broad. A tree impossible to overlook, a tree imbued with history.

It graced St. John’s Episcopal Church when it was first erected in 1909, witnessed the devastating 1992 fire that laid much of the building in ruin, and stood there during the church’s reconstruction.

A close bond, then, between a majestic tree, an architectural gem of a church, and the surrounding neighborhood that now finds itself diminished.

St. John’s lost some friends by taking down this beech, notwithstanding several arborists’ reports of progressive decay. 

St. John's ailing copper beech, which stood on the border of Hartford and West Hartford until it was cut down this past October.
Credit DWIGHT LATIF / COURTESY OF ST JOHN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH

The poet in me wants to summon that sense of loss in the landscape of words. The historian in me wants to take the long view of the near depletion of CT's canopy due to increased farming. Today, much of that forest has regrown, and Connecticut is once again one of the greenest states in the country. 

But the environmentalist in me knows that not all is well. Throughout the state and the region, the expert eye sees forests under duress due to drought and insects such as the gypsy moth and the emerald ash borer that thrive as temperatures are rising due to climate change. 

And we’re losing urban trees at a disturbing rate even as we become more aware of the many benefits a healthy urban canopy holds — reducing the urban heat effect, filtering the air, managing water flow and storing carbon dioxide. Urban trees are useful beautifiers, not to speak of their positive impact on our mental health. If this sounds soft, read the science.

Yes, we lost a tree, beautiful and useful. The idealist in me hopes its absence makes us look afresh at the many trees that surround us, and partner with neighborhoods to ensure their health for generations to come. 

Alas, that idealist in me tends to be out of touch with reality. 

Johannes Evelein is a professor at Trinity College in Hartford.