Saturday, September 19, 2009

Honoring the Down Trees in Central Park

Gerdy and I went walking this morning at The Great Hill, one of the highest points in Central Park at W. 104th Street. We made it before the 9am leash law took effect, so that Gerdy could wander through the shrubbery and pollinate plants that are seeding tiny little green seeds in her thick coat. What is different for us now, after doing this for almost seven years, is that the canopy of trees that we walk under, on little paths carved out naturally and some by the Parks Department, are gone.

A twenty minute storm with 70 mile per hour winds and hail that blew through the Upper West Side on Tuesday, August 25, uprooted, blew over, "shattered" (word used by a writer for the New Yorker) hundreds of trees, and the shrubbery on which they collapsed. According to that article, some of the trees were over 150 years old and had been there since the beginning of Central Park.

The morning after the storm, stunned New Yorkers couldn't take their normally scheduled walks on paths because entire trees had fallen and blocked the paths. Dog walkers who are here every morning, climbed through entire trees, which is an odd experience, to get through and get to the other side, only to climb through more fallen trees. Birch trees were blown upside down - the top half resting on its head beside its severed trunk. This was before the Parks Department could caution tape everything off a few hours later and begin buzz sawing to be rid of trunks or entire root systems blocking major walkways. Therefore, this blog post is a long overdue obituary of sorts, for these trees and pieces of woods that are now gone.

What the Trees Mean to Me
Central Park looks very different and produces different emotional or scented effects depending where you are standing. Like New York itself, which changes block by block, the Park serves as calm bird sanctuary, dog walker heaven, roller skater madness, sun bathing beauty, soccer for little kids in the Fall, handball for those without tennis raquets all year, stunning English gardens from the Vanderbilts, shelter for wandering homeless men, a hideout for some criminals when chased by police car and helicopter (as seen from our windows) and two wild dogs (who were later dramatically captured, housed, and adopted).

What usually goes unnoticed, or maybe it's just me, is how this land changes not acre by acre, by 10 feet by 10 feet. The concrete footpath leading up to the track at Great Hill, which houses small children riding bikes with training wheels, frisbee golf clans, and dog walkers, leads one through a vast sloping lawn on one side, and what used to be the Blair Witch of woods on the other side, until a woman living in a very fancy apartment across the street donated over $1 million dollars to renovate it. After the renovation, she'd spy on the dog walkers from her window, and call the police when she spotted someone throwing a stick to their unleashed dog at 10am, or 1pm, or any time that was not within the leash law. In the winter, this was particularly problematic because the leaves were gone from the trees and her line of vision was like a hawk through the branches. In the summer, after the heavy budding of the elm and tulip trees erupted into big fluttering leaves, we were safely hidden again.

After she renovated the Blair Witch area, wild shrubbery had been cleared out and replaced with bursting pink flowering bushes, baby trees and new ferns. Rocks were placed in a circle that actual witch groups would gather round to light candles and have chants, and dead trees that served as landmarks were left untouched and mowed around, serving as chimneys at night for any person who needed to sit by a fire.

This tiny area of the park, when viewed from the street, is high up on a cliff, with jagged rocks that some people scale, shaded in lilac trees that smell overwhelmingly delicious in Spring, even when you are walking the same speed of the garbage truck on its morning route. The morning after the big storm, most of those lilac trees bended down the cliff, breaking onto the sidewalk. Up at the height of the cliff, there are smooth, rolling rocks that one can sit on and absorb the sun like the turtles do just one block down in at The Pond. The trees around the rocks allow for spots of sun, but mostly, serve as a temporary shelter during a light drizzle. Trees are all around, and you are hidden from any park ranger if you are off leash with your dog who may insist on eating several of the leafy greens that grow from the different type of weeds or bushes.

After the storm, however, this little area is bare, and sun beams entirely on the rocks, giving you more of choice of where to sit, but less of a sanctuary. Further up, where the lilacs where, some still remain, but the expanse of bush is gone. It is brown dirt, surrounded by bails of hay one could surmise is to prevent new chances of erosion. A tree that seemed to spin out in its growth and was very wide, lost one half of itself. Two major trunks grew from the base, and one trunk did not survive the storm and snapped off, crashing on the area beneath it.

Standing on this rock, this big mother of a rock that on one side has a 6 foot drop off into smaller rocks, you can now see the line of apartments running south down Central Park West when you could not before. To the west, is the bare soil with patches of pink flowering bush still budding behind fencing that was once lush with paths and landscape, and to the north east, one sees the growing pile of stacked tree trunks reaching 15 feet high, which have been fenced off with fencing that doesn't reach that high. Across from it, a steaming pile of woodchips, the fate of those tree trunks, which are elm, tulip, oaks, horse chestnut, beech and black cherry. The woodchip pile is steaming because of the pressure of so many woodchips on top of each other, encouraging combustion. This is Ground Zero for what seems like all of the trees that cannot be removed from the park because of an infestation of Asian longhorned beetle that was caught in a few trees two years ago. They must all be shredded. It was estimated that 500 trees were down. This used to be where I jogged, but the ginormous canopy tree I stood under to do my stretching now lies in that pile, to be transformed by a bladed woodchipping truck. So I don't jog there anymore until it's all gone, which looks to be several months, since the pile seems to only grow wider.

Walking home, there remains one path through the woods that despite the blowing streams of yellow caution tape tied to its fencing, retains some of the enchantment and quiet that several of these winding paths used to give to walkers of Central Park who needed to ge engulfed in green and mulch and weeds and flowers and swaying branches for just a minute before returning back into the world of elevators and subways and sidewalks, where running in bare feet through clean grass is just a memory.

This is just one small area of the park that was devastated. And really, the total extent of damage only occurred between W. 97th and W. 110th streets. Central Park goes from 110th to 59th streets on both the east and west sides. If one didn't walk by the renovated space formerly known as Blair Witch, they'd take the lower path and walk by woods, where dogs can be frequently seen darting through, or taking peaceful poops. Bird watchers would mill around with binoculars looking at the new hawk that had settled here in one of the tallest trees. I saw my first bluejay attack on a cardinal nest. All gone now. No tall tree where that hawk built the nest.

It's cleared. Brown. Roots sticking up out of the ground. Roots of trees turned to a 90degree angle taller than me. The bales of hay circling the base of what was once dense woods that one could not see through, unless in the dead of winter. Gerdy still walks over this space, does her business, and continues to sniff the new earth that I wish I could say was fresh. But the odor of the rotting tree trunks in the pile above is overwhelming, and all I can do is sit on a freshly but jagged cut tree stump while Gerdy sits on the new hillside absorbing the crisp Fall breeze that blows freely in this unobstructed place. I could envision thoughts in her mind, that she's missing these woods, but I don't think that's the case. She is enjoying the new open hillside to catch up on all that's being carried on the back of the breeze.

Several volunteers of all ages have come out to rake branches, spread mulch, clear brush, and anything that needs done. Here's information on how to volunteer in Central Park.

The fixing of the park will be expensive. Here's how you can donate to Central Park.

Thanks. Here are pictures.

Our first clue that something was wrong.

Our second clue. The birch tree branch upside down.

Confirmation that things were bad. This is a concrete path leading up to the Great Hill near The Pond and the Inner Drive.

Scramble through that tree, and you'll see the next set of trees down.

This tree uprooted and fell over.

Super closeup shot of a hefty tree that just snapped and fell over.

Another tree that just snapped.

Up on the Great Hill. This is the tree I used to stretch under. There is a huge tree next to it, and Gerdy would sit under that one while our rabbi friend and his dog would do forms of meditation. That one is still standing.

I think this is the other side of that tree, the root structure. Always amazing to see the hole it leaves. There is one deeper into the woods, where there is a ravine, and it's always been there. It's like a crater landed there, and has always been a landmark for Gerdy, that she has to sniff and climb into. But now, there are lots of these types of holes.

Trees in trees.

When this fell, did anyone hear it? I sure didn't. I didn't even bring out my camera that morning. No one thought major damage had happened.

All of the trees get taken here to this pile on the Great Hill.

Some of the trees were unhealthy I suppose, but according to the New Yorker article on August 31st. 2009, several healthy ones came down due to those high force burst of winds.

The growing mound of chips that the trees get turned into and is then spread throughout areas of the park, including new and old paths.

This is Gerdy trolloping through the new blank hillside that used to be totally covered in woods. This used to be where we could hide from the police when we needed to be offleash to do some business.

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