For those who cherish longstanding oaks and maples as rare works of nature amid the asphalt urban landscape, the sprawled hulks and leaf-strewn streets left in the wake of Tropical Storm David occasioned moments of elegiacal reflection.
"For us it was a real tragedy," said Eloise Sendi, whose house under construction in southern Fairfax County had been carefully designed around 20 Spanish oaks, all of which fell yesterday, ending glorious lives of 200 and 300 years.
"We admire trees so much. Our architect liked trees. You don't expect to have everything wiped out," she said. "We were so shocked we went outside when the wind was still blowing."
Of all the living things unable to escape the violent winds of this hurricane-spawned storm, it was the tree that suffered most. In the District of Columbia alone, according to city officials, 50 to 75 trees, mostly maples and lindens, were destroyed.
There were felled trees throughout the city, but most of them were lost in the Adams-Morgan area, according to Martin Bell of the D.C. Department of Transportation's tree division. "It seemed to be the path of a twister," said Bell. "Trees were torn right out of the ground."
In Montgomery County, at least 75 trees were ravaged by the storm. Most of them went down along Rock Creek Park, undercut by the swollen waters of the creek. Carl Hahn, chief horticulturist for the county parks commission, took consolation in the fact that as bad as the damage was yesterday it did not compare to the tree toll of Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972.
Hahn noted a little-known irony about the battle between wind and tree. In storms, he said, healthy trees are more vulnerable than sick ones because they have a greater leaf canopy, which acts like a sail. A healthy 50-year-old oak might have a leaf canopy as large as several thousand feet.
In addition to their wind-catching summer canopies, many curbside city trees are handicapped by a lack of anchoring tap root. "Most trees along city streets don't have tap roots because they've been transplanted," said Bell. "If you plant a seed you get a tap root. But the tap root is destroyed when the tree is transplanted."
The city's tree division of 60 men worked until the 2 a.m. yesterday clearing the streets of branches and Bell said they would be picking up debris for the next two weeks. Bell said the city would remove all trees uprooted on streets, highway property and alleys.
All hopes of shade and comfort are not lost for those whose block was made barren by the storm. The D.C. tree division plants 3,000 saplings each year to replace an equal number it loses for various reasons.
David's attack on trees left one Fairfax City resident more exasperated than sad. Lucille DuBois stared dejectedly at an upright oak in her yard strewn with fragments of brick, concrete and 14 other trees.
"The tornado destroyed my rose bushes, my McIntosh apple and pear trees," she lamented. "And it broke all the windows in the house. It destroyed everything except that darned oak tree, the only tree I didn't like."