The Chosen Ones
Updated: Oct 29, 2021
Blissful rise and dreamlike fall, chance to live up to a century
Hyperawareness of the constant struggle, but chance for centuries of life
Now, suppose you had to make a choice between the two, but this choice is a lifetime commitment. You are an eternal spirit drifting through the ether and are about to be born, yet again. Which do you choose?
In Brooklyn, I’ve seen trees growing out of raised subway platforms and from the broken walls of abandoned buildings. In Central Park, I’ve seen a maple tree growing out of the massive branch of an ancient beech. The first green leaves of Spring in the tree-lined streets provides a moment to transcend the wind tunnels of the grid system, the cold and hard concrete of the streets. By Summer, Honey Locusts and Paper Birches are green and swaying, while imports such as Pagoda Trees and Gingko look as if they had always been here. Thoughtful fences and benches protect the trees on the streets from dogs and bicycle chains. Hand-painted signs distinguish that particular tree in front of an apartment building as loved and unique, a chosen one, one in a line of many who has found the luck to grow outside of the fierce competition of the woods. These trees are the hermits in the woods of the city, a fantastic contrast to the human hermit in the actual woods.
But all is not as it seems.
Trees planted on city streets are confined in nurseries and pruned for years before they take their predetermined place. Their roots are cut yearly to make sure the tree is compact and easier to move, but this kind of root-pruning is akin to cutting out a portion of a person’s brain. By the time they make it to the city, the lobotomized trees know little more than to reach outwards, rather than search down and around for water. This makes them hyper-dependent on water, as if they were born addicts and doomed to never get enough of what they need, just another New York story.
Without the embrace of other trees in the woods, the lone tree grows up, without measure. Patience, that crowning attribute of trees in a forest, is non-existent. Time eats away at its arboreal children as surely as the pigeons eat the mystery meat on the street. To literally compound the struggle, the compacted cityscape, full of underground pipes and old secrets, makes water-retention in the ground minimal. You could pour a whole gallon of water over a teacup, but a teacup will only hold a teacup full of water. Wind, sun, floods, snow and ice, pollution and construction work are all working against the tree. Sure, there are the good years where nothing seems to faze the tree. But gone is the possibility of a good century of a tree in the woods, after a challenging one, weathered with the help of the rest of its companions.
I find it hard not to see city trees, beautiful in their own right, as tragic artists, doomed to die young. Oh, what they could have been if they had never gone to that city, if they had never left their friends and family behind.
I ask, again: Which life would you choose?
October 29, 2021