CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's a tall pine tree near my driveway that needs to come down.
Its death seemed sudden for a mature tree. Only about a year ago, I noticed the first brown needles, 60 feet up, at the tip of its crown. Today, all of its needles are gone, and strips of bark litter the ground.
I can't say I'm surprised it's gone. In the 10 years that I've lived on my latest little plot of Almost Heaven, I've stayed busy sawing down each year's crop of spindly skeletons.
My neighbor often helps me, and as we work we commiserate about the die-off on his several acres and my adjoining three.
You could say that I'm in touch with nature. My critics will, of course, say tree hugger. But, as with the land where I was raised, I feel like I know every tree and shrub in the woods that surround my house -- and I know that they are not well.
To me, my hilltop is a microcosm. It's my up-close-and-personal view of our changing climate.
The trees are dying for several reasons. They are, as always, under siege by disease and pollution, but more recently they are victims of an ugly cocktail of stressors.
New insects have moved in, welcomed by the warming winters. Invasive vines, emboldened by the new climate, move farther and farther up the mountains, strangling young trees in their path.
The periods of drought we've suffered over the past several years have forced plants and trees to shift resources to survive. Eventually, they succumb to diseases they can no longer fight.
The missing trees leave plenty of room for the invasive species that take their places, and the fallen timber turns the forest floor into a tinderbox.
A few years ago, after spending the Easter weekend with relatives, my family and I returned to find the forest behind our house a blackened wasteland as far as the eye could see, full of smoldering stumps, wisps of smoke and empty turtle shells.