Thursday, August 27, 2009

But the sight of the two trees I considered solely mine since they were saplings—I call them “The Twins”—first planted under the shade of the pine trees on the rocky hill some 40 years ago—gave me a start. Initially I could not even recognize them, so mauled were they. It was like an angry god had reached down and rent their limbs, dumping them like giant matchsticks to be buried under thickets of severed branch. Already the leaves on those branches were silver-colored and dead. I wept without restraint. After awhile I noticed that the trunks on both, even the more mauled of the pair, seemed in good enough nick. Spinning positively, I hoped they could be saved.

After viewing the devastation in the rest of the north end, The Great Hill area especially, I held out for a more hopeful outlook for my trees. The Great Hill, the area around West 106th Street, lost several dozen trees. The New York Times reported that, “Some of the trees—pin oaks, red elms, tulip trees—dated as far back as the turn of the last century. At 100th Street and Central Park West a chestnut tree, recorded as having been planted by Frederick Law Olmsted more than 150 years ago, suffered storm damage and was to be felled.

Since the storm I have made daily treks through areas of the north end, sometimes ducking under the ubiquitous yellow caution tape draped across footpaths and stone stairways, or wrapped around clusters of wounded trees like discarded party streamers after a particularly wild blowout. The refuge-like silence that usually welcomes a contemplative wanderer like me to the area that is known as the north woods has been ruptured by a sonorous growl, ratcheting off rocky outcroppings, drowning birdsong and the familiar flush of waterfalls. If one didn’t know better, there might be reason to be fearful; that just around the familiar curve of a wooded path that I am following is a formidable deterrent, a beast unlike any other, one to be avoided at all costs.

Instead, I continued exploring, humming along to the John Cage-like dissonance of the music of tree-eating machinery surrounding me.

On some of those walks, either alone or with The Mister, as one does after a public calamity of any sort and we tend to be more approachable, we had many informal conversations with strangers. A woman I met on that first morning in the aftermath told me how surprised (and upset) she was to see so much destruction. She lived only a few blocks below the storm’s path and so out of range of the full impact. Her first reaction was that Mayor Bloomberg had reacted heavy-handedly after the death of a man a few weeks ago from a falling tree limb, and ordered any potentially dangerous tree felled. We kvetched like old neighbors about their mayor in true New Yorker style and then focused our attention on her two adorable mutts. The younger of the two, just a pup, was rescued while she was on vacation in The Virgin Islands. She and her husband simply cut him down from where he was hanging as bait for dog fighting! A man we met at The Great Hill accompanied us as we walked back home, relating to us the far wider devastation in Riverside Park, that the park was closed and how cars were smashed in the street. We parted around the lake at 104th on the West Side but he hesitated a few yards ahead of us, turned, and trotted back to direct me to a raccoon in a tree branch he thought my camera should not miss.

Days later, an article in the New York Times shattered the hope that “The Twins” would be spared: “This is the saddest part to me,” said the parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe, as experts gave little hope to two damaged yellow buckeyes, in the horse chestnut family, that still towered over thickets of downed foliage but seemed destined for the wood chipper.”

Notwithstanding my sadness at this news, I was surprised that I had not actually known the proper name of the trees: yellow buckeyes, in the horse chestnut family. They were always just my two trees, “The Twins.”

For over forty years I have sought out these trees for many reasons and for no reason at all but just to see them growing on the edge of the field. Two spindly saplings are pictured in a black and white photograph I have somewhere. I was a much younger woman then and married for the first time. It was not a good marriage and the turmoil that came out of an ill-conceived union often sent me on lost walks in the park. Then the north woods were not considered safe ground. I was careless, thoughtless, or brave in those days—whatever you want to call it—and I often banged through the undergrowth of the north woods demonized after any number of noisy, tearful arguments. By the time I had returned to “The Twins” my soul had restored, at least until the next round of conflict. They would always be shelter for my personal storms.

Married now to The Mister for over 20 years, I won’t say there weren’t any number of agitated walks necessitated by the struggle to get to know each other early on, but they dissipated and were replaced with countless walks side-by-side in the part of the park we love best. We began to think of “The Twins” as an old married couple, secure in each other’s company, content with their fit. In all seasons they have never wavered from each other’s side, not in the over abundance that spring brings nor the harsher days of winter.

New trees will be planted, it says on the Central Park Conservancy site. A child today will grow up with a tree or trees that become dear to his or her heart. I found a Greek proverb that happily summed it up for me: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”


zbelnu said...

Beautiful and wise post! I feel I know many of the things you talk but it is only through your pictures and messages and chronicles of walkings through the park and views of the Russian cathedral and stories all these years we "know" each other. I will borrow these great sentence by Hesse about trees! Thank you for your memorial, it is true this is a kind of ground zero for the park, your park that it was mine for some days, because park are generous and their hospitality for tree lovers is beyond limits

Druidhead said...

No matter where you travel, the ones who don't judge you and offer you what they have (shade, a place to rest) are the trees.

I will try and read some of your blog today with the silly software. But the photograph on your blog is gorgeous!