This morning, I went into Marcus Garvey Park to check out the damage Hurricane Sandy did to the huge old trees. They mean a lot to this part of Harlem, as most of the neighborhood hangs out under during the temperate months.
Several trees were down, whole root systems turned on end, including one oak whose trunk was more than 3-feet thick (how old must it be?). Many trees had branches sheared right off, hanging at weird angles like broken… limbs.
A few people stood around the the fallen oak talking about how sad it was, tempering their sadness with the memory of greater damage that had been wrought by Sandy: there had been truly terrible losses and suffering.
I wondered what good could come from it all and from these fallen trees. Then I thought of hauling one home.
Parts of those broken and downed trees were like sculptures that expressed the whole big thing: all those folks playing chess under trees in the summer and the long night of the storm and it’s fierce beauty and destruction and New York’s history and my own…I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, but I wanted a chunk of one of those trees from this singular time, to make something, or have it be something, still.
I was mulling a foot-thick limb whose center was ripped open at an extreme angle, revealing its heart, wishing I had chain saw to salvage a hunk that would otherwise just be turned to wood chip. A guy in a Parks Department jumpsuit wandered by and yelled “Which part do you want?”.
“This part I said.” pointing to a 4-foot long vertical split of tree. “It’s beautiful…tells the whole story.”
“Tell me where you want it cut and I’ll see if I can get the chain saw guy to do it when he’s over here.” So I showed him and we talked a bit.
“It’s so sad.” I said.
“It’s Nature” he said. Simple as that.
That afternoon, I went back to see if I could find that hunk of tree. I ran into the Parks guy who showed me where it was and hauled it onto my dolley since I hadn’t thought to bring gloves. I told him I have a website called ‘the improvised life’ about working with what you have around you.
…He grinned. “Like me” he said, and shook my hand and disappeared.
Stay tuned: photos of the tree I hauled home to come…
With thanks to the amazing Parks Department guy who got it, but who we’ll keep anonymous because he’d probably get in trouble for letting me even be in the Park.
Related posts: maria popova + hermann hesse on what trees teach us
when nature reminds you to stop what you are doing
birch logs for book cases and other household accents
tree trunks and rocks as display cases + stoolsx