A Tree Dies in Brooklyn



9th St. & 7th Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11215

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Park Slope

There was once, just a few weeks ago, a tree outside of my bedroom window. I am not even sure what kind it was – maybe Oak, maybe Maple. (In New York you don’t really bother to know the names of trees, birds, and flowers, and it issomething you feel guilty about.) I liked this tree. It’s not that I favored it over other trees, it’s just that it was the only tree around. I admired how it miraculously grew in a small square patch of soil, a cut out in the concrete sidewalk, a small space neatly reserved for the life of a plant.

This tree told me things: I knew when it was windy because its leaves would shimmer. I knew that it was summer for sure when its branches filled up with green leaves that blocked my window. In the winter it was bare naked, sharp and pointy branches like the end of a witch’s broom, and when covered in snow, miniature icicles formed off its branches. I felt warmer inside looking at the tree outside: it bore the winter in a way that I could not.

Although it was not the healthiest-looking of trees, it did seem to grow. I knew this because each year it seemed to cover more of our window and its branches reached closer and closer to us. In a few years we would have been able to touch them.

So four Tuesdays ago, when I came home from work, my husband had news for me.

“The tree isn’t there anymore,” he said, “a big truck with a ladder came this morning. At first I thought they were coming to fix the phone line but then they pulled up next to the tree and started trimming it. I realized they were doing more than trimming it. Pretty soon there was nothing left.”

I looked out and saw only the windows of the houses across the street. I looked down and saw the stump.

“The guy cutting it was right next to our bedroom window,” Hal continued, “He looked in without smiling. He meant business.”

“You should have said something!” I cried out, staring at the empty space.

“I couldn’t, he was determined. The whole thing happened in five minutes. There were pieces of tree all over the sidewalk. It was awful!”

He explained that our neighbors talked about the tree incident for the rest of the afternoon but that they saw the situation differently: they wanted the tree chopped down. “It was diseased,” they said, “a danger to other trees.”

Later in the week, as I was walking to the F train, I went past what remained of the tree. I stopped to pay homage. I observed the swirls of growth in the wood and their different shades of brown. There was still sap on the frayed edges where the saw had cut. In the middle of the stump, there was a large hole, and I saw that passers-by had stuck various forms of trash in that hole: a crumpled-up apple juice carton, an empty package of cigarettes, and the sports page from The Daily News.

We showed the stump to friends visiting from the country this week and we told them our sad story. Upon one look at the stump, Howard said: “That tree was diseased. Trees aren’t normally hollow.” An entire brick was in the hole this time.

“Oh well,” I said, resigned to my fate of life without this tree, “do you know what kind it was?”

“It looks like it was a Maple,” he answered. I was amazed that he could tell what kind of tree it was from the bark on the stump. People in the country know their trees.

Stephanie suggested that we call 311 and order another tree, and I think I just might do that. Even though I know I won’t be living here anymore by the time it reaches the bedroom window.

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