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
12 replies on “hurricane sandy: strange beauty amidst destruction”
A wonderful story. I love New Yorkers, especially in times of trouble. Their kindness always comes trough.
You got me Googling, Sally, to see how to age an oak tree based on your first photo. Here’s a URL with one method:
If the diameter is 36 inches and it is a white oak, it would be roughly 180 years old. A Pin Oak tree would be 108 years old, a Red Oak 144 years old.
It’s a loss no matter what its age.
This moved me so much. My heart is with trees. I was living in Oklahoma for a few years when the ice storm of 2007 hit. The few acre park on my block lost 60 trees. Mostly a third. But that was tempered by the otherworldly wonderland made by ice crystals on everything. The trees were so heavy with ice that they bowed literally to the ground and you had to walk through tunnels that they made. Thank you for saving a bit of that dear old tree. So happy that you are all okay. Really enjoyed the practical things I learned from your blog about your rather luxe survival “kit”.
Thank you for what you do.
The fact that you defied Bloomberg, ventured into the park and found beauty amidst the destruction; your desire to have the fallen tree “be something still”, then meeting your partner in crime who helped make it happen- I love everything about this story! Thank you for sharing it.
Tim, I can’t thank you enough for doing that. I’ve been meaning to, but have been constantly distracted. The tree was more than 36 inches around. I’m going to see if I can find out more about it. At the very least we could say it’s 110 years old, which would put it’s birth around 1900, but even possibly well before as the park was opened in 1840.
Here’s a teeny history of the park itself: Known as Mount Morris Park for more than a hundred years, it was originally part of the estate of Metje Cornelius Kortright. The name Morris became attached to the site by the 1830s; possible sources include Robert H. Morris, elected mayor in 1841, and a family affiliated with a racetrack that once operated nearby.
The park itself dates back to the 1811 Commissioners’ Plan for Manhattan, which called for a square in a slightly different location, between 6th and 7th Avenues and West 117th and West 121st Streets. The prospect of breaking through rocky Mount Morris led the City to build the new square there instead. Mount Morris Square opened on December 1, 1840.
I can’t help but think of all the things that tree has seen and been through. And you’re right, it’s a loss no matter what its age. I am hoping that the Parks Department will do something with it, for example, make public seating out of it, as the forthcomiung post describes.
Thank you Maris, for the bittersweet memory. My heart, too, is with trees.
Hi Sally! I went searching to see if I could find a photo of any of the downed MGP trees and came across this. Double cool points to learn it was written by one of my (new) neighbors. I love trees also, and agree trunk furniture would be awesome.
Congratulations on getting a piece for yourself. I remember finding a huge branch when I was 12 and dragging it home. I had it for 10 years until I moved out; I kept it in the corner of my bedroom and loved it. No one could understand why.
Hey Carole, What an amazing thing to find ‘the improvised life’ in such a roundabout way. (We live in the same building!) Hope you’ll be checking in often!
I will – there’s lots here for me to catch up on. I agree, how very random. 🙂
TY so much for this moment of stillness. It evoked a whole different kind of tears than every previous photo of the destruction has…
A moment of stillness. Glad that’s what it’s effect was. We were looking for some redemption amidst all this destruction.
just a note from a former lifelong new yorker, i am thinking about all of you and sending lots of warm thoughts and hopes for the help that you need. it is quite a mess there, and will take a longer while to clear up than previously thought. but eventually it will get better, the end of the story will be a good one. take heart dear new york. my father used to call it the greatest city in the world…i think he was right.