Of the many remarkable qualities of trees one is that they don’t move. We love them for staying in place. We plant trees, climb in them, build metaphors of personal identity around them. But they are so vital and look just enough like us (arms, fingers, shoulders, crotch, torso) that they often it seems as if they should be able to up and leave. In our hearts and art we make them do so. In Macbeth Birnam Wood shall come to Dunsinane, and the Ents– the enormous tree beings in the Lord of the Rings –do finally walk out of their forest to fight the good fight against the Evil Empire. And then there are those trees that were so moved by Orpheus playing the world’s first music they up and followed him all the way to the sea, uprooted by their own yearning.
But trees do stay in place and to their stiff peril. In the last 3 or 4 years the trees of New York City have paid heavily for their dependability. Two severe windstorms in late winter after biblical quantities of soil-dissolving rain leveled thousands, thinning out even modest softwood saplings. An actual cyclone –that only touched land for 10 square blocks in my corner of the Bronx by the Hudson River 3 summers ago– twisted off the canopies of 80-foot vibrant trees like a corkscrew one after the other, leaving torqued and amputated trunks to mark the weather’s path. Hurricane Sandy: a carnage of autumn entities entire, from their weightless yellow, red, or still-green leaves down to the toenails of their roots, keeled over with massive clumps of earth and entire chess squares of sidewalk pavement still clinging in their newly parallel state. Red maple, red oaks, silver maples, locust, gingko, ash and bass, buckeye. Horse chestnut. Blue spruce. Impossibly tall tulip trees from the 1800‘s. Linden. Such company we have kept.
I fell recently, striding through some city woods, suddenly and without warning, cracking it would turn out, not one but two left ribs. For a few long minutes in my newly-parallel state I couldn’t figure out how to get up off the sloping path. I’d been felled and going to ground is always hard. I was alone among a hundred trees creaking quietly in the breeze. Just me and them and the shout of the Metro North train over by the river. A being of locomotion, I needed and did finally make it onto my feet, holding my busted glasses, making a slow and painful way back. Mostly stalwarts lined my return path but a couple still-standing trees were split and splintered midway up their trunks.
Trees-Wind-Train 15 sec.