You couldn’t tell if it was little-leaf

or not, the canopy was so far overhead. Tilia Americana or Tilia cordata? I stood in the Bronx next to a playground on on Gouveneur Avenue, marveling at the height of these monster lindens. The smallest of them had a DBH of 7 inches while the largest ran to 40 DBH. (DBH equals Diameter at Breast Height, the standard way of measuring trees’ height.) How tall were they? I could make out the heart-shaped leaves, all slightly asymmetrical, and the bracts that always remind me of pieces of cream-colored silk woven in someone’s hair. They carry the linden’s fruit so it will reproduce. But they must have been 40 feet tall. I am notoriously bad at heights, heights of trees, and just multiply my own height (generally) with how far up the tallest branches seem to be. I know there is a trigonometric formula I can invoke, but as I said I am bad at heights. (h=TanA x d)

People don’t normally think of New York when they think of shade. But it’s all around, chilling out people and homes and schools, in a fortunate neighborhood. Two men came by and spoke to be as I was juggling paper, pen and DBH tape for a survey of the linden trees on this block. A milling machine was going to come through soon, before the street was repaved, and the contractor wanted to prune any trees whose branches would get in the way of his 14 foot unit. I was to identify those trees in need of pruning. The two guys lived there, in an apartment underneath the mesh of branches and leaves far above. One said the tree we stood beside had “been there since before I was born”. He was about 60. The other said, “These trees shade everything, they make it all so cool, it’s so nice.” He was nice, too.

I had seen lindens pruned to within an inch of their lives and they could look beautiful like that.

Two allees of little-leaf lindens stand in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There has been a lot of study recently about the importance of shade in cities. Health suffers without trees there. The difference between shaded and nonshaded areas is something like ten degrees, enough to kill someone in southern climes without air conditioning, which not everyone can afford. This falls under the general rubric of environmental justice.

The canopies of these giant lindens on Gouveneur Avenue offered a generous helping of something little else could provide – coolness on a hot day. With the health changes come changes in mood, also. Maybe that’s why these guys were smiling so much. It’s a womb of cool. Shade that helps you live. I always thought that lindens were beautiful. On Gouveneur Avenue I realized they were life-giving as well.

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