A poem lovely as a tree."
~ Joyce Kilmer, Trees
Joyce Kilmer's 1913 poem Trees was one of the first poems we were given to memorize in grammar school. I didn't like it then and don't like it much now, but there is a certain truth to its opening lines – especially when it comes to one particular tree, a willow that I have loved for decades.
When I first moved to Hunter's Point, Queens, in the early 1980s, the area was vibrantly industrial and trees were in short supply. Paint factories, chemical plants, electrical parts manufacturers, printing presses were all going strong, employing tens of thousands. Down the street Empire Iron Works was piling beams onto trucks from dawn until dusk. Two blocks down, the Pepsi bottling plant was working shifts and trucks bustled by at all hours.
The Pepsi plant is gone now, as are almost all the area's manufacturing jobs. But as this photo I took a couple of years ago shows, its sign remains as a reminder of the neighborhood's past.
Another part of the past that stayed and stayed and actually has grown more beautiful over the years was a three-tree stand of weeping willows on a corner a block away. It was not only a rarity in this nature-starved area, it was so lush that the tops had merged into one giant canopy. Here's how it looked in the wind on Monday afternoon as Hurricane Sandy drew near. I joked that it resembled a shaggy dog shaking off water.
Sandy, as we now know, was no joking matter. In the past week I've had this song running through my mind, over and over – Bob Dylan's High Water (for Charley Patton).
On Tuesday afternoon, as soon as the worst of the storm had passed, I walked down the street to see how my tree had fared. The news was bad – the beautiful willow was broken and bowed across the street.
Then, yesterday, I was out walking again, taking photos of the storm damage, when I came upon this shocking site. One tree had been removed completely. The remaining willows' broken limbs had been removed, leaving this sparse, mangy shell of what had been.
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
~ by Maya Angelou
Read the rest of "When Great Trees Fall" here - it's a lovely poem about large things.
One more song for the road – Allison Kraus's "Down to the River to Pray".