For Arbor Day, below is the story of New Yorker Natalie “Nasha” Schrape’s intertwined loves, romantic and arboreal, and her reflections on the centrality of trees in her life. Such personal accounts of active involvement in stewarding the fellow species of our city will be featured on the fully realized http://www.NatureCalendar.com website in our Nature Community section.
Nature Community is “where us and them blend.” No one embodies that principle more than Nasha. She also takes some amazing photos!
After enjoying Nasha’s essay, celebrate Arbor Day by making a commitment to NYC’s green future. The million trees we will plant in coming years as part of PlaNYC must be tended by caring neighbors. Become that kind of local hero by completing a Citizen Pruner certification class, as Nasha did, with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and Trees New York. Or volunteer for the tree census. You can register here:
Another wonderful program is street tree labeling by the NYC Tree Trust so that our sidewalks instantly become classrooms.
Miracle on 34th Street
by Natalie Schrape
So the real miracle on 34th Street is trees.
Good ole London Planes, Norway, Red, & Silver Maples, Callery Pears, Littleleaf Lindens, Ginkgo, Green Ash and Honey Locust compose the most common trees in New York City’s five boros. I first found this out by volunteering in the 2005 NYC Tree Census, whilst falling in love with my census partner.
We were brought together by our love of trees. My love for both has landed me a citizen prunership card. I have become a NYC tree advocate and looker-after.
I have learned that any tree in NYC is a miracle. It takes at least five years for a sapling to establish itself, and the majority does not survive. NYC trees must endure much. They must contend with extensive pavement that inhibits air and water movement into the soil, compacted solid soil, and limited soil volume due to underground utilities and pipes. They must withstand high wires, street signs, holiday and other decorative lights, or anything else that chokes them.
Sometimes they outgrow their pits and begin to grow over the sidewalk, often cracking it. Trees must endure extreme heat or extreme cold. Recent droughts killed many of the saplings. Dog urine and salt for the roads in the winters are toxic to a tree.
Trees must survive cars and trucks opening doors on them and backing into them. They suffer their branches getting broken by carelessness, accident or sometimes blatant aggression or boredom. Often, home owners or merchants will dump dirty water full of bleach, ammonia or other cleaners into a trees pit.
Trees are our lungs. They clean and filter our air. They minimize the pollutants we breath in and provide us with oxygen. They are vital to our health and existence. Actually helping correlate the multiple branches on the tree to my lungs bronchiole helped me realize the importance of quitting smoking. Imagining that my lungs were as precious and delicate as all the many parts of the trees, made me finally realize how vulnerable and tender my lungs were. The trunk and branches are our bronchus. The leaves are our alveoli.
Trees are big upside-down lungs of the world. What a miracle.
I took trees for granted once. I assumed it was easy for them. I mean, they are all over the place, right? It’s gotta be a synch for them to grow anywhere. I liked them. Now I have a relationship with them.
I imagine they are happy when it rains. I imagine they are thirsty when it is 95 degrees. I imagine they choke when Fido pees on their roots. Now I ask myself what is the species on that tree? How old is it? Does the tree look healthy? Are there dead branches? Is it infested with a bore? What does the tree pit look like? Is the soil compressed? [Note: A little-known effect of traffic congestion is that vibrations from vehicles cause soil to settle and compact, damaging trees and other plants.]
I have a strong old Norway Maple outside my bedroom window. It is a haven for a community of cardinals, blue jays, turtle doves, starlings, sparrows and squirrels. They in turn produce a soothing symphony of bird songs all summer long. Yet the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation will no longer plant this tree as it is now considered invasive and a host for the Asian Long Horn Beetle which is destroying many trees.
The Ginkgo Tree can be traced back to when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, over 200 million years ago. Sometimes it is called a living fossil. Only a few of them survived the Ice Age. Thanks to a tiny group of Buddhist monks in China they now flourish worldwide again. Its leaf looks much like a green fan.
The London Plane is a hearty hybrid of the American and Oriental Sycamore tree. It is extremely popular in NYC parks and near housing projects. They were the darling of Robert Moses. The bark of these trees is distinct because it appears to be peeling and flaking in shades of brown, gray and green. (See London Plane trees in the streetscape photo above by NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.)
The Callery Pear is the second most common tree in NYC. In the spring, it is more than likely the tree that is covered with those delicate white blossoms. It is a wonder and miracle unto itself.
There are many Linden Trees in NYC. I am partial to them also. As a little girl, visiting my grandmother in East Berlin, I was very aware of walking on the famous ‘Unter den Linden’. Which when translated meant, ‘Under the Linden Trees’ Street. They are sweet smelling trees. They remind me how close I really am to my birthplace and home, Berlin.
The Pin Oak leaf is regal and articulated. It is characterized by 5-7 bristle-tipped lobes separated by deep cavities. It is one of the easier leaves to identify. Of course, this tree comes with acorns. This became one of the special symbols of my love’s connection to me. When we where separated he thought of me when he picked up the cap and nut. I picked up a chestnut in Berlin and thought of him.
Because I have traveled and moved and adapted to many living situations, cultures and cities, I have also realized the universality of the tree. Trees makes all these places appear and feel similar. They lend me a sense of familiarity. They have symbolically become a home for me. They comfort me.
Sometimes when I forget to breathe………………….they breathe for me.