The leaves have just about all fallen. I was able to identify a horsechestnut – compoundly palmate leaves, in other words resembling your hand – only by a few crisp specimens that hadn’t yet crumbled in the gutter.
I spent a day driving around Brooklyn visiting tree pits that had been disturbed in the process of putting in new sidewalks and that needed fresh topsoil. A young, ceaselessly energetic landscaper named Byron and I hopped from Hendrix Street to Bergen Street to Benson Avenue, giving modest Ginkgoes a light blanket of earth the color of pumpernickel. We were putting them to bed.
The topsoil provides nutrients for those roots that had just been nudged by shovels and backhoes, but beyond that it’s just a beautiful coating, a frame for the urban trunks and limbs that deserve the best exhibition possible. If it were me walking out my front door in the morning, I would like to see a tree with its feet in that rich, dark dirt.
Visiting tree after tree, I felt melancholy. I knew that this was the last gasp of the season for me. From now on it will be too cold to pour concrete, too frigid for planting, and an arborist has nothing to do but hibernate with the bears. This has actually been three seasons, spring, summer and fall, but it feels like one rush of communion with trees and tree culture, which I’m so grateful to have stumbled into.
I’ve loved the prehistoric looking roots of plane trees pushing out over the sidewalk. Nothing can stop them.
It’s difficult to tell the types of deciduous trees without their leaves, and so I don’t know whether the two dead giants that crashed across our driveway this fall were oaks or maples or sweetgums. Gil’s chainsaw rendered them into neat circles ready to decompose in pieces in the forest, the final stage in the existence of a tree. Meanwhile, the stored power of the living trees all around is banked like a fire, waiting for the warm weather, which I think of as I lie on the couch watching the kiln-seasoned logs burn in our fireplace, with half an eye watching the men wage war in Kagemusha.
Sad as I am to leave the world of trees until the end of winter, I tell myself that the change of season is not a dying, but a gathering of energy, required for the buds that will soon enough come around.