Ten Thousand Trees

New York City lost ten thousand trees in the great storm. Many other trees had limbs torn asunder, like the one pictured above, whip-snapped by the fierce winds. By now, the streets and parks have largely, but not completely, been cleared of this wreckage, but the gaps will be around for a long time, in some cases all our lives.

Now, when a tree falls in the forest, it most certainly is heard. The dead tree opens space in the canopy, letting in a surge of sunlight. This allows saplings, which have been held in abeyance by the limited light, to rush up towards the energy of the sun. Thus do forests regenerate themselves, while the felled tree slowly decays, merging back into soil, air, and the other plants and animals that make up the interconnected web of life. Of course, nature is always in flux; change is the name of the planet. Storms, fire, climate change, megafauna, humans, and human-induced climate change, have all been reasons why forests become meadows and meadows become forests and forests become deserts and…

Our created habitats, though, are special cases. There is no space on the sidewalk for a downed street tree to be weathered and digested over the years. There are no saplings to take its place. We have to plant the new tree there. (And let’s make sure it’s not a Callery Pear, the weak sister of street trees; the great majority of downed tree limbs in my neighbood, which was nearly unscathed otherwise, were from Callerys.)
And an ancient like this one on the edge of the Nethermead, in Prospect Park, probably more than a century old, is never quite replaced, particularly in our own imaginations. This was the tree I long observed a pair of migratory Merlins in.As global temperature increases, and we humans, with our paleolithic brains, seemingly unable to do anything about it, it sort of looks like one of the things those of us who care can do is be stewards of the planet. Used to be, she didn’t need us, but that’s no longer the case. The shadow of one becomes the ghost of another.

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6 Responses to “Ten Thousand Trees”


  1. 1 Elizabeth White November 27, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I was in Prospect Park yesterday for the first time since Sandy/nor’easter – how sad to see so much damage to the trees. The Parks Dept. has had their hands full, and have done a marvelous job clearing the paths and roads.

    • 2 mthew November 27, 2012 at 10:47 am

      Many a volunteer also helped. I was with over a hundred who turned out the first day civilians were officially let in to help, and though they would not trust us with chainsaws, we had hand saws for the smaller snags.

  2. 3 alphonsegaston November 27, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Great post. I have a Callery Pear on the edge of my woods; an ice storm took half of it, So I have a constant visual reminder of the fragility of those trees, which are planted everywhere out here along town streets. Surely the parks people are aware by now that the Callery Pear is an unwise selection?

  3. 5 Gillian November 27, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    It’s sad to hear so many trees were destroyed in the storm. Thankfully this didn’t happen during nesting season!

    I love that last photo….for some reason it really resonates with me.


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