A Tree Grew in Manhattan
While thinking about this local event, I found myself flipping back decades. Growing up in leafy Washington, DC, I had an urban childhood that was surprisingly suburban. Quiet, charmed, and green. One day, returning home from elementary school, I was greeted by my chastened mother who informed her children that the elm tree outside our bedroom windows had been hit by disease. It would come down. Surely, I thought, she was mistaken. The leaves were green; the massive trunk signaled a being that could endure. But it was true that other trees on our street had been unable to resist some beetle bearing a fungus. Despite its full canopy, our tree was infected, dying. It would be felled.
This just left the question of when. And this preoccupied me completely. I was not some precocious environmentally-aware kid. But the thought of losing that tree was like losing a member of my family, and I couldn't digest it. Every subsequent afternoon, rounding the last bend on my walk home from school, I would hold my breath: had the chainsaws done their work that day? And for many days, I was relieved to find it still standing. Until, of course, the day when I rounded that bend and could see the sky; all was different. There was glaring sunlight where shade had been and stacks of wood in the parking strip. Our majestic tree was reduced to a stump.
Soon a tree replaced our elm. But I have never looked at this "new" tree without thinking of the one that came before. And decades later, it is starting to look like a mature, shade-throwing beauty. But it sure took time.
So when a few weeks ago I learned the news that someone in our midst took an ax to a ginkgo tree on the east side of West End Avenue just south of West 103rd Street, I reeled. Surveillance video recorded a man leaving a nearby building around 2:30 a.m. one March night carrying a hatchet-like tool. In a manic, desperate or appallingly selfish act, this individual -- it seems -- hacked a crude waist-high ring around the tree's circumference.
He's also planted an exuberant arrangement of Spring flowers in the tree's planters. One neighbor's defiant message to another that such an act will not stand unanswered.
Who did it? And why? Much has been speculated. If caught and held responsible, the individual stands to pay a high price for this misdemeanor. The police have opened criminal mischief complaint 1274 and are pursuing a full investigation aided by a special counsel of NYC Parks Forestry Division and with the cooperation of the landlord of 872 West End Avenue, the building in front of which this ginkgo grows. Or grew.
But I will never forget the ugliness that made it so. And I sincerely doubt that I am alone on West End Avenue.
By Caitlin Hawke
P.S. Don't miss our Spring Planting Day on May 2nd. Details may be found on our calendar. Also that day, our neighbors in the West 80s are organizing the "Love Your Tree Day" for the "greening and cleaning" of the West Side "one tree at a time." More information may be downloaded in the document below. My guess is that we're in the spirit more than ever this year.