Sometimes you et the bur

and sometimes the bur ets you.

Sitting beneath the drought-drooping branches of a bur oak in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood cemetery, we tapped our feet a bit impatiently, waiting for the trolley we were told would take us to the jazz concert in the catacombs. William Parker, freeform bass player, had been scheduled to perform. Nice view, stretching out over the New York City rooftops.

Constructed in the early 1850s, the Catacombs were an option if you couldn’t afford your own mausoleum. One famous person so entombed is Ward McAllister, the Gilded Age arbiter who coined the phrase “the 400” to refer to the guests of Mrs. Astor’s ballroom.

What could be more wonderful than jazz in the catacombs at the tail end of summer?

Well, there was some competition. We entered through the Gothic brownstone gate to a cacophony of bird song. It was almost dusk. Looking up, we saw a network of tuft-y nests above us.

The spire was home sweet home to dozens of birds. Not just any birds. Monk parrots, shining iridescent green at this magic hour, flitted and floated in a cloud above our heads.

Something curious about monk parrots. Driving the New Jersey Turnpike the day before, I looked up to see a small flock of them overhead. You cannot miss them, they are chartreuse. Were they following me?

Monk parrots materialized in New Jersey around a decade ago and theories have been floated as to their presence in the American northeast. These birds hail from Argentina. Was there a shipment intended for a pet store that broke open at JFK and released them? Maybe. Or perhaps individual pet-bird-owners got sick of them and they went on to propagate here. In any case, there are now multitudes of monk parrots in fifteen states, including Florida and Texas as well as New Jersey and New York.  

Monk parrots are the only parrots to build a nest of sticks rather than roosting in a hole in a tree. They have some other distinctions. They can live to be twenty or so years old. Also, a pair shares a nest with another pair, with a separate entrance for each couple, intricate globe-shaped condos that feature different rooms, or apartments. There’s a community room, a front porch, and spaces for mothers to sit on their eggs. Siblings help with baby care. A pet monk parrot’s vocabulary of human words can rival that of the African Gray.

At Green-Wood, the grounds crew initially tried to destroy the nests at the entrance gate, but no longer does so because the presence of the parrots has reduced the number of pigeons nesting within it. Scientists actually conducted a comparative chemical analysis of pigeon feces, which destroy brownstone structures, and monk parakeet feces, which do no such damage. The monk parakeets are in effect preserving this historic structure. Edith Wharton would probably prefer the pigeons.

She hated brownstone, a new building material in Gilded Age Manhattan. “It’s like New York City is covered in cold chocolate,” she said. In her 1933 memoir, A Backward Glance, she opined that brownstone rendered New York “hide-bound in its deadly uniformity of mean ugliness.”

Green-Wood Cemetery is an astonishing 478-acre amalgam of history, nature and art. And death. Founded in 1838, it was a place to go for picnicking New Yorkers in the Victorian era, before the availability of large “rural” spots like Central Park.

At one time it was more famous as a tourist destination than Niagara Falls. Fashionable folks chose it as a burial site, and you’ll find the graves of Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Louis Comfort Tiffany there, along with the uppertens of the Gilded Age and countless Civil War generals. The New York Times observed in 1866 that “it is the ambition of the New Yorker to live upon the Fifth Avenue, to take his airings in the Central Park, and to sleep with his fathers in Green-wood.” I am quite sure that Edith Wharton would have spent some time ambling at Green-Wood.

The place does a great job with its plantings.

Nice place to while away some time while waiting for the music to start.

You can always find mysteries among the headstones, such as these offerings I inspected while awaiting the jazz.

Which, bye the bye, was postponed, and later cancelled. Fire trucks sped past along the winding cemetery lanes. Fire alarm? Bomb scare? No one seemed to know, and we didn’t wait around to find out.

The chatter of the monk parrots was as sublime as any catacombs jazz one could hope for.

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Beauty hurts

and I shoot when I’m in the most pain. Joe McNally credited a fellow photographer with that exquisite sentiment in the course of a workshop at the abandoned hospital complex at Ellis Island today. He taught, and led by example, shooting pictures of his own as the day progressed.

I liked helping guide the group around the complex and hearing this pro’s ideas about how to see and to show what is all around us there.

McNally, a veteran photographer (National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, New York Stock Exchange annual reports, etc., etc.) had shot Ellis Island in the late 1980s, when even the main immigration building hadn’t been fully restored and the south side of the island was a wreck. Save Ellis Island, the nonprofit that employs me as an educator, has now stabilized some spaces to what is called a condition of arrested decay.

We snooped around a lot of areas I don’t usually take tourists.

Some wards, as decrepit as they are, give off a somehow beautiful feeling. Blue was thought to be a calming paint color to use in wards, especially those housing patients with psychiatric woes, and I think it still soothes the savage breast, as playwright William Congreve said about music back in the day.

Other people helped with the tour and provided their own bright color. Charles.

I thought about Leonardo da Vinci. He said, Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.

For the photographers today, it was all about the light. The quality of light here is very forgiving, McNally assured his students.

You feel it palpably, he said.

The weather cooperated. Dawn came up pink in New York Harbor.

Later, lightning and rain, courtesy of Fiona brushing by up the coast, offered just enough mood.

Photographers don’t all like to be bothered with facts, even at such an iconic spot. It’s usually about the framing, the exposure, shutter speed.

Some tolerated a little historical grit to accompany the visual grit at the hospital. This was a ward where the sickest of the sick received treatment, I told a few of them, keeping it simple. Or, Nurses lived in these quarters.

To whomever I could get to listen, I said, Florence Nightingale’s ideas were so important to the medical protocol here. She believed in sunshine, fresh air, and handwashing. That’s why you see so many handwashing sinks as you go throughout the complex.

Neither the sun nor death can be looked at steadily, quoth La Rochefoucauld, back in the 17th century. Perhaps it is just too difficult to stand in the hospital ruin’s spaces and really grok what went on there, that there were human beings working, suffering, being healed there. Existing. The oversized autoclave was used to sterilize mattresses so that people wouldn’t die.

Emerson said, The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common. A faded scrap of carpet remains, improbably.

Coal bins in a jumble. Don’t mind us, we’re just crucial historical artifacts.

An industrial spin dryer: The Fletcher Whirlwind. We can only imagine the important folks who once did the wash here and kept everything sanitary.

The group spent time in the morgue. Nice location for a fashion shoot some day.

McNally talked about what to do if you want to impart a patina rather than shooting it raw.

The abandoned hospital complex offers nothing if not patina. Are there ghosts here? You be the judge.

One photographer actually came all the way from Lisbon to take the class – also to hang out with half a dozen pals who knew each other from the trenches. He said you can’t beat the atmosphere at the abandoned hospital complex. I said, Say spaghetti and meatballs! and clicked. Savoring the light.

You must give birth to your images, said Rilke, he who knew everything about everything. They are the future waiting to be born.

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When I said my favorite color was brown

one time, everybody laughed.

In writing class, teachers use a prompt to get everybody’s creative juices flowing. I hiked the Old Croton Aqueduct trail today, using brown as a prompt.

The familiar sandy light brown soil. Hadn’t been here for a while. The sound of the mid-afternoon breeze rustling the leaves, late summer insects’ buzz. Black cherry trunks snake up, brown.

Underfoot, my own personal school-days madeleine, a horse chestnut, glossy brown in its miracle of a small spiky package. 

Sun-browned old brick from one of the brickyards along the Hudson, a booming business back in the day.

Across the river, the light brown strip of the Piermont marshes, ancient, brackish, mysterious in a canoe.

Thinking about dog-nose brown.

Iced-coffee brown. Always great, but especially when consumed recently at MoMa before paying homage to Matisse’s magnificent canvas The Red Studio.

I’m not saying how much coffee I drink, only that if it keeps me up, the more interesting thoughts I get to have. Recently stumped by midnight riddle: what would happen if you combined orange soda with grape soda? The answer? Plenty of sugar buzz. But also the color brown, carbonated.

Thinking about young-hair brown.

On the trail, wizened mulberry trunk brown. Where I live, somebody petitioned the Village wanting to remove an elderly specimen from their property, saying the fallen berries were “messy.” Really? Messy is good, it’s what makes us alive.

I love mulberry trees with their misshapen mitten leaves.

Brown shadows. In the immortal lyrics of John Prine, Shadows. Shadows!

Fungi brown.

Fruiting bodies, if you want to sound like a supercool arborist.

Thinking of cattail brown.

Peegee hydrangeas’ pink tinged ever so slightly brown.

Oak leaves verdant, still, yet stems and acorn cap brown.

Grey cherry trunk with its delicate brown lenticels, my favorite feature, the stitch-like pores that allow oxygen in and carbon dioxide out.

Finally, coming home, the brown face of a late-summer sunflower.

You may have your run-of-the-mill rainbows. I will take my beautiful brown all around.

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Mommy, where does paper come from?

I remember when I first visited Marathon Park in Wausau, my husband‘s hometown, to attend the Wisconsin Valley Fair, an event I loved for its fried cheese curds (of course) but also the Mason jars of ripe peaches and pickles in the Home Arts pavilion, all canned seemingly by the same blue-ribbon winner, my namesake Jeannie Zimmerman.

It wasn’t until years later when I returned as an arborist that I even registered the “old-growth forest” embedded in the 78-acre park, hundreds of soaring poker-straight white pines smack in the middle of town.

I considered myself a country soul in a city person’s body.

Hadn’t I loved living in a farmhouse in the middle of an orchard with an impossibly fecund vegetable garden?

Didn’t I cherish the memories I had of Auntie, my great-aunt, a home economics instructor in rural Tennessee?

I had always been enthralled with her needlework. The tatting I inherited from her mystified me; it seemed like the best kind of magic.

I nursed a fantastic collection of vintage recipe booklets.

I’d lived in a cabin for 10 years and immersed myself in nature there – the sound of night-time cicadas got me high.

Hadn’t I doted on flowers forever, planting vintage rosebushes and rare daylilies purchased from one Mrs. Jörg, who sold the plants out of her neat little house down the road?

Couldn’t I can peaches and pickles with the best of them?

Yet I knew nothing about trees. I associated Wausau with paper products, because pulp mills  in nearby Rothschild made the stench of paper production palpable in the air –“the smell of money,” as they liked to say. I thought it was funny at the time, but never considered where the paper came from. Now I noticed the convoys of log trucks on the highways, a surviving vestige of the region’s lumbering past.

Gil was an expert in some aspects of the outdoors.

His father had been a cardboard-box salesman, an affable guy inclined to woo clients over late afternoon Cutty Sarks in the local tavern.

The packaging Acton Reavill sold to cheese companies and pizza makers was generated here from local tree farms, as are so many American paper products. Long, lean white pines, the bread and butter of the midwest. We take these products for granted.

Especially, as Gil likes to remind me, here on Wisconsin’s Fox River, toilet paper. The math: thirty-six percent of harvested wood is used for paper every year. The average tree weighs over 1,000 pounds and produces about 800 rolls of toilet paper. The average person uses about a roll per week, so this is a fifteen-year supply for one person. You can easily go on Amazon to purchase jumbo rolls of Marathon two-ply toilet paper. We wipe our butts with it every day. 

I am not the only person without a clue as to where something so crucial as our toilet tissue comes from. My book-in-progress American Heartwood will chronicle the rich but largely forgotten history of logging in the United States.  In this work of narrative nonfiction I will relate the historic tension between exploitation and conservation that has characterized the relationship we in the United States have with our woodlands since well before the Mayflower landed. I plan to tell the story of my journey from writer to arborist, and intertwine that adventure with a larger tale, the story of our long and complicated love affair with our forests. When I became an arborist, I began to find it sweet as maple syrup, the complexity of the woods around me that I had formerly experienced as one green whoosh passing when I drove on the highway.

My book won’t make an expert canner out of you – you’ll have to study under the other Jeannie Zimmerman for that –but I hope it will make you take sit up and notice of those majestic beings around you. In Wausau’s Marathon Park or Manhattan’s Central Park. Much more exists than at first meets the eye.

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Boat rockers unite!

I have been going around with a smile on my face all day. Why? Because today I saved a tree. A big, beautiful linden in my home town. Yes, utility wires thread through its branches, but it has so far avoided becoming entangled.

It stands lined up with two other mature lindens on the tree lawn in front of a house on Euclid Avenue, the nicer part of town. Its diameter is large enough that I am far from being able to touch my fingers together when I wrap my arms around it.

It could be that I care about this tree in part for sentimental reasons. Growing up, I had a friend who lived in the house, and there were parties… well, suffice it to say the lindens stood there back then, though they were of course a bit less impressive.

A new homeowner contacted the Village to say he was worried about the tree. A landscaping company examined it and – surprise, surprise – said it was a hazard and had to be removed. Tree companies, counterintuitively, always seem eager to cut down trees, especially when they can convince some responsible but naïve resident who worries that a big old tree might crash onto his house in the dead of night. Tree removal is tree companies’ bread and butter.

My town has a lot of people who like trees. It’s a long-time Tree City USA, with  a conservation-minded municipal government and many citizens who are dyed-in-the-wool green. We have an active Tree Preservation Board (at the moment I chair it). All of it couldn’t necessarily equate to keeping this particular tree alive. It turns out the other Tree Board members also thought that perhaps this tree was on its way out. It featured a burl and a cavity. Why rock the boat?

While birds and other critters love cavities in trunks, humans can be very afraid of a hole in a tree. People, compartmentalization is a thing, okay? According to what tree people call CODIT (compartmentalization of decay in trees, of course), when a tree is wounded it begins to protect itself by slowing or preventing the spread of disease and decay by forming “walls” around the wounded area. Suffice it to say that the walls run in every direction, ingeniously. So a tree can live and prosper with a hole, even a big hole, in its gut.

I called up my friend, a brainy DEC forester, who told me that while the state is not permitted to conduct such evaluations, he would take a look. There was indeed some decay, he observed, describing the linden as a “high-value” tree. Get a licensed consultant to do a level 3 Tree Risk Assessment, he said. I appealed (nice word for my continued agitation) to the Village. Finally, finally, they brought in their favored professional arborist, an impartial expert who put a stop to all the funny stuff and said the tree must stay.

Hurray!

Boat rocking doesn’t always work. I recently lost a battle to save trees that were being removed from our leafy downtown streets in order to lay new sidewalks. That was unfortunate, and I grieved. 

Now, lindens are beautiful trees. Not the most beautiful, to me – beeches are. “It seemed a mere toss-up whether she said, ‘I love you,’ or whether she said, ‘I love the beech-trees,’ or only ‘I love—I love.’” That’s Virginia Woolf, one of my favorite writers, from Night and Day. We know that people since time immemorial have fallen for beech trees, their smooth grey bark, eminently useful for leaving your mark. 

Thoreau said, ”I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.” I like to think of some lost soul tramping miles through a mysterious, tangled forest, too shy to unburden himself to the person he cares for, and surreptitiously taking switchblade out of pocket to pronounce, on bark, indelibly, the sentiment I love-I love.

So beeches are great. But lindens come pretty close, with their heart-shaped leaves, their dangling bracts, their grey-grooved bark.

Everyone deserves to have a favorite tree the way everyone deserves to have a favorite birthday cake.

Yours might be a yellow sponge cake, mine might be a fudge tunnel cake. Or a strawberry cake–the best kind, made Southern-style with white cake mix, jello and oleomargarine. Or even a gourmet hazelnut torte. It’s up to you.

You might be a birch person.

Perhaps flouncy cherries do it for you. They can be pretty irresistible at their peak.

Or you might have a thing for the alligator juniper, the species that favors coming together with other alligator junipers for a little pleaching party.

You might even favor the saggy, baggy London plane, a sentinel of our city streets. 

If you live in the southwest, you might eschew real trees altogether in favor of the imposter saguaro, which also stands sentinel, though in deserts. That’s your right.

In any case, you need to protect what you love. Probably for a lot of people reading Richard Powers’ Pulitzer-winning novel The Overstory, the term tree hugger might resonate. What about the original tree huggers? In 1730, 294 men and 69 women belonging to the Bishnoi branch of Hinduism took it upon themselves to shield the trees in their Indian village from being mowed down for a palace, and were massacred by foresters. They literally clung to the trees, and died for their bravery. Happy ending, the government decreed there would be no tree cutting in any Bishnoi village, and now the place is a green oasis amid an otherwise barren landscape.

That story sounds like it might be a little burnished by time. But the next chapter of tree huggerism is indisputable. A group of peasant women in the 1970s in the Himalayan hills of northern India took inspiration from those earlier folks when they fought to have the trees in the vicinity preserved, throwing their arms around the trunks to do so. This was the Chipko movement. “Chipko” means “to cling” in Hindi.

They had success; before long there was a tree-felling moratorium in Himalaya. The tactic, called tree satyagraha, had spread across India and forced reforms. 

Satyagraha! The original boat rockers.

The future is vast, and we don’t know what awaits us. But one thing is for sure. It feels good to save a tree, a large old linden that wasn’t doing anybody any harm. It was just being beautiful. And will go on being beautiful. If I have anything to say about it.

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Something happened today. Something out of the ordinary.

I was taking my group on the walking tour of the abandoned hospital complex at Ellis Island. We went into the “hospice room,” which was many peoples’ last stop at the hospital. As usual, the spaces at Ellis had been magical, evocative, spooky, and above all historical. There is a room where someone once swore they caught the fragrance of lavender. Another person, it is reported, heard children’s faint laughter down a corridor. In one space, the nurses’ quarters, a rainbow likes to appear on one wall no matter the weather, rain or shine. I’ve seen it many times but have never been able to capture it in a picture.

I always like to ask people when we get to the hospice room to take a moment to reflect on all the people that had come through the hospital wanting to come to America, making sacrifices we cannot imagine to come to America, and ultimately not making it here. 

(Or, as has been pointed out to me, only making to one of the New York area cemeteries.)

Blue, by the way, was considered a calming color, and so many of the sick ward walls at Ellis were painted blue.

People on my tours take that moment to reflect, then we move on to another space. After today’s tour a woman caught up with me to tell me something. She said that on her ghost-buster phone app, as we stood in the hospice and took that moment of silence, some words popped up on her screen: “we are everywhere.” That had never happened before, she said.

Phone app– latter-day Ouija Board. Okay, easy to say. Nonsense? When you are there, in the moment, it feels like anything but. Chills.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow. Anything is possible.

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If you are a perpetual learner

(I am) this is the job for you.

Haitian Inspector’s name is Jean, too. Jean-Robert, he tells me. Explains that where he comes from, the Catholic church would put the name Jean first in front of all the boys’ names because men should be in front of women. Doesn’t happen these days, he says. Phew, good to hear. Jean-Robert is one of the careful New Yorkers who still wears his mask shield religiously.

Start location today, corner of Orloff Avenue and Cannon Place in the Bronx. Little crinkum-crankum streets in this neighborhood that someone outside New York would probably not expect. Two juvenile Eastern redbuds flank the entrance to Van Cortlandt Library. One might stand in the way of a pedestrian ramp to be constructed here. Hence the presence of a tree consultant.

Nearby, honey locust dangles its acid-green seed pods. One worker on a previous site was intent upon the question of whether these seed pods are edible. He brought one home to investigate. People are curious, no matter how jaded we might think everyone is.

In fact, when the legume of Gleditsia triacanthos ripens, its gooey green contents may be devoured by cattle. Digesting the pulp, cows and horses then part with the hard, tannin-rich seeds contained within the pod, and so junior honey locusts are born. Not, of course, in the Bronx. Native Americans had a use for the pod–they had a use for everything, of course– it was utilized for food and medicine and also for tea. Europeans had the bright idea of using the tree’s thorns as treenails for shipbuilding.

Success always demands a greater effort. Thus spake Winston Churchill, a man whose greater effort customarily required great quantities of alcohol. We have a doctor’s note to be used on the statesman’s trip to the U.S. during Prohibition.

In a letter to his wife, Churchill mentions drinking “champagne at all meals & buckets of claret & soda in between.” There was also the beverage his children called a “Papa Cocktail”: a tipple of Johnnie Walker Red to cover the bottom of a glass, to be filled with water and sipped throughout the day. However, as is well known, the man loved champagne the best. And Cuban cigars. Perhaps he would like this shirt on display in a Bronx shop window.

Thinking recently about when I first transitioned into the field of arboriculture and had a lot of learning to do, a major effort. In the tree industry as in other fields you need a credential to define you, and so I devoted many late nights to preparing for my certification exam, offered by the International Society of Arboriculture. I remember that I couldn’t quite believe I was studying for a multiple-choice test, at my stage in life—and that the material was so grueling. The memorization is challenging, even for people who have had years in the field. There were late nights spent at my desk studying diagrams of xylem and phloem, fortified by repeat listenings of a pop song by the band TV on the Radio that had as its chorus Everything’s gonna be okay! Everything’s gonna be okay!

That wee bit of hypomania I had been diagnosed with decades before now worked its charms. My love of language trailed me into the profession like the long shadow of a tall old pin oak, Quercus palustris. Would I really have to learn Latin? AP English had been more my speed back in the day. When I was growing up, what I knew of trees confined itself to the apple tree I climbed as a child and the oak tree by the driveway in whose crevice I created domestic worlds out of acorn caps and twigs. I was to find later on, teaching writing to arborists, that many had a Malus in their childhood which was their formative experience with dendrology, that the wizened backyard apple they encountered as an adult was their madeleine.

Now, even if I had wanted to I could not shake my obsession with the names of the exotica I was learning, terms like lion tailing, thimble, water sprouts, whoopie sling, gymnosperm, cow hitch, come-along grip, antigibberellins.  Yes, Winston, greater effort.

I newly fathomed the phrase, “You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” (Mr. Samuel Beckett, of course.)

Clevis, inflorescence, bucking!

By day I mused over the petiole, the slender stalk that connects a leaf with its stem; my night dreams overflowed with phosphorus, oxygen, h2o. I filled my Five Star composition notebook (once the incubator for my book ideas) with the qualities of biotic diseases such as fire blight, nematode, black vine weevil, frass borer and  adelgids, leafhoppers. I still wasn’t sure if I’d be able to identify gummosis in the field, but now I knew at least that it was the exudation of sap or gum from a wound or other opening in the bark. Asterisk! Important! Field-grown no longer brought to mind farm-fresh green beans or juicy tomatoes but ball-and-burlap saplings that would survive transplant shock, no fertilization necessary. And of course, to the repeated rock-and-roll exhortation Everything’s gonna be okay!, the vital necessity of organic mulch. Yikes! How would I remember it all? Later I was to learn that even the most grizzled arborists customarily looked up the more arcane facts, there was no shame in it.

I recall sitting in front of a computer terminal at a bland Manhattan testing site near Grand Central Terminal and sweating over the questions, not sure I could make the grade. All around me people were proving their worth as correctional officers and real estate brokers, probably going on to great things, not grubbing in the arboricultural dirt (yes, tree people do call it that, not the more p.c. soil.) Yet I was excited. This project of mine was blowing up – it was heady, it was real. And, somehow, I passed.

On to the Bronx, years later, where ginkgo leaves flutter.

As do the latest fashions.

Haven’t had to use a cow hitch yet.

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Road trip revelations big and small

included some arresting sights, such as the Wisconsin highway barn painted in mile-high letters by people who obviously wanted to get their message across. These guys should work on Madison Avenue. OKAY, WE HEAR YOU!

A flock of blue jays, one of which left a memento behind for someone (me) desiring signs and best wishes for the future.

Earlier on our journey, another blue jay, by the road side. Good effort to whomever created it, and good tidings to all travelers passing by.

A message dishtowel I seem to have absconded with from the family reunion cottage on Green Bay. Yes! Agreed.

Flowers lush, fresh, unexpected. Euphorbia milli.

A rainbow, always a good harbinger, this time at what is called the American Falls at Niagara. Eschewing the yellow ponchos they give out to tourists who stop under the torrent, I looked down over the whole scene and was impressed by a) the majesty, of course and b) the tawdriness of the surroundings. Have three quarters of all commercial establishments (hotels, restaurants, etc.) shut down during the pandemic, or does it just seem that way?

Wanted to find a memorial to Annie Edson Taylor, the 63-year-old nearly penniless widow from Bay City, Michigan who thought she’d achieve fame and fortune by braved the Horseshoe Falls in a barrel in 1901. Challenged by a reporter to reveal the skimpy outfit she might wear to make the journey, Taylor responded, it would be unbecoming a woman of my refinement and my years to parade before a holiday crowd in an abbreviated skirt!

Apparently her only monument stands in Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, where she died as a public charge – only 17 minutes of fame for her and no gold at the end of the rainbow (bad manager blamed). A schoolteacher, she fitted herself out in barrel weighted down with a 100-pound anvil and went for the ride of her life, only getting slightly banged up.

Farm-stand raspberries just picked, before being gobbled down. Summertime, summertime…

WOW! Seemingly defunct art gallery in Manetowac, just before the Canadian border. Peeking in, dusty easels and all.

Apple plucked from the grass beneath an old-old tree, the kind of fruit people used to go crazy for in the days before candy for everybody all the time – mainly sour, cottony, with skin of leather, instantly oxidizing – which I ate down to the core before tossing out the window.

Johnny Appleseed fantasies. An interesting fellow, not a myth. John Chapman, born in 1774, was a pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of the eastern U.S. He was also a missionary and when he traveled around to various states distributed materials about the New Church along with his apple seeds, giving sermons that cautioned against such indulgences as calico fabric and imported tea. 

The Runway Bar in Door County at the small airport for private planes, Bad Lands in the back (bordello?), shut down in the ‘90s but still offering a side-of-the-road sight for sore eyes, tree busting through the roof and all. A dive bar that took a nose dive, says Gil.

Another way sign I grew instantly fond of. Beach Harbor, baby. Let’s go.

Sleek windmills all along the highway. I’m told not by Cervantes not to tilt at them — they might be evil giants — but I insist. Saw some on the road being transported, accompanied by a robust police convoy.

Well-groomed Motorcycle Memorial Park way off the road.

A place to raise a beer to fallen comrades, apparently. But remember, bikers don’t let bikers drive drunk.

Aldo Leopold bench kit at The Ridges nature center at Bailey’s Harbor – 120 bucks will get conservation-minded carpenters the great naturalist’s name brand for their garden.

A canoe setting sail with family members at sunset. Sweet dreams are made of this, as the Eurythmics would have it.

In other boating news, a homemade flotilla and race at Sturgeon Bay – only plywood and caulk allowed – and almost all sink to general, gentle Midwestern hilarity.

In still more boating news, a Gideon’s bible graces the cabin on the coal-fired ferry from Manetowac, Wisconsin to Luddington, Michigan, across the great lake. Will put reading that old thing on my to-do list.

Odd tree habits. I don’t get this, but I love it. Maybe there is a biblical allegory here?

The moon that followed us as it waxed, flaming yellow and orange, so close you could see the ancient, impossible face. No Iphone pic can do justice to this fever dream of an evening sky. Truly the magic hour.

It was hard to get enough of Ottilie the German short-hair pointer taking cat naps in the back seat.

But don’t mention cats to Ottie, who has a thing about cats and other small creatures. This great bird dog, without a hunting trip to focus her, once put a chicken out of its misery at doggie day care.

And speaking of dogs, nine puppies for sale at a crossroads farm – parentage impeccable, Red Aussie/Red Heeler/ English Shepherd/ Border Collie.

Like fur-covered jelly beans, all of six weeks old. Callie the home-schooled farm girl (not sure what grade I’m in — ninth, I think?) shares a picture of the father. Pretty formidable presence, I’d say.

Will we adopt one of his progeny? I am currently petitioning my dog-loving husband, who cherishes his freedom now that all our prior dogs have crossed the rainbow bridge, as some people like to put it. Probably originated with some of the same people that put up the JESUS IS LORD barn message.

Perhaps the blue jays will bring me luck.

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The best place to see a proper butterfly

might be a butterfly conservatory. Or not. The Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, home to over 2,000 butterfly species from around the world, is a little like a tony African photo safari or a giant precious zoo filled with live confetti fluttering by and occasionally, amazingly, brushing up against your arm. You might rather see a hyena in the wild, without all the frou frou.

But people sure do love it. Remember butterfly kisses, your eyelashes against a baby’s cheek? Here they are in abundance.

First, you must complete your snoozy, long drive across Ontario.

Pull up under the massive twin-stemmed bur oak on the grounds.

(Burr oak if you want to be less pretentious.) Quercus macrocarpa has exceptionally large acorns if you catch it in the right season, each with a jolly fringe.

The Conservatory offers flowers that attract flutter-bies and humans alike. Such as Clerodendrum.

Or the jungle geranium.

The beasties themselves vary – 45 species coexist here, around half imported from places like Costa Rica or the Phillippines, but some raised on site in a quarantined greenhouse. Sounds antiseptic, somehow. Paging Dr. Moreau.

Some look to be dead, like the mystical blue morpho I found on a hot stone, but they are simply drying their wings and relaxing.

I might have seen a Karner blue, the species discovered and named by Vladimir Nabokov in 1944 (he began collecting lepidoptera at the age of seven) but it flew away so fast I could not document the find. Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man, said the writer of Lolita, he who knew something about great writing. Something he might have liked at the Conservatory, girls in their summer clothes, in the immortal lyrics of another writer, Bruce Springsteen.

Some specimens take advantage of fruits provided by the professional lepidopterists on staff. Spelling courtesy of the resident owls.

A place to both people- and turtle-watch.

I thought the butterflies would be bigger. And the tourists smaller.

When asked what was the funniest thing she’d seen here, Sharon the teenaged docent told me that sometimes they lay eggs on people’s clothing and they freak out. The people, not the butterflies.

Exit through the gift shop, asserts Banksy, a bit of an artistic butterfly himself, specializing in the ephemera of street art.

And of course the purity of butterflies winds seamlessly into the epic lepidoptera-themed store as you go out. I looked for earrings made with butterfly wings. I had a pair when I was a teenager, gleaming blue morpho. Lost one in the tall grass on a summer night, and the boy I was with went back the next day and in a stroke of kismet found it for me. No morpho earrings to be found here, of course, PETA would most likely object.

If the humidity of the throng gets to you, step outside into the cool air of the wildflower garden. Mid-August is the purple season. Coneflowers.

Bromus erectus. Don’t have to be gaudy to be beautiful.

Even the plain old begonias here on Canadian soil are bodacious.

Sweetgum, always a sweet sight.

A perfect snail.

Sculptural steel wings.

And finally, incredibly, an actual wild butterfly on the lam.

Could it be a Viceroy? I wonder. Kismet.

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The meaning of a cairn

is debatable. It’s a marker or a meditation of some kind, says Sarah.

An ode to the fact that people have been here. Yes. Sarah swims in the cold, rough ocean, and knows something about everything.

Traditionally, in the Andes or Mongolia, say, rock cairns were used to mark routes to safety, to food, and to villages. Three or more stones piled up, usually.

Thomas believes that they were first used to prevent marauding predators from defiling corpses, but remembers that in Boy Scouts, hiking, they built them to use as a sign for those who follow. That must surely have been fun.

Finding your way in the world can be fun. Or not. It’s always an adventure. Even pain lets you know you’re alive. Can help you find your way.

All kinds of signs, not just cairns, in this Midwestern sortie. The wall leading to the beer hall restroom.

The supermarket aisle, full of Midwestern cute-isms.

The roadside wayfinder to the coming old-time thresheree. Missing it. Rats.

Even the fish store has its own signpost, useful for dinnertime filet crust-creators.

Something called a chambered cairn in ancient times featured a grave underground and a cairn above.

Marking your way, finding your way, figuring out where the heck you should go. You probably have heard that men and women organize space differently, and wend their ways differently when they take to the road. Women determine where they’re going by landmarks, men by maps.

Here on the shore of Green Bay, sticks and stones.

Sticks and stones won’t hurt you. Stones might. Hundreds of thousands of spiders swarm the shore and clamber whooshingly into the cracks when you make your way across.

Sculptor Andy Goldsworthy is known for his sculpture at Storm King sculpture center in New York. With the help of five men he built a wall 2,278 feet long out of rough stone dug from local fields—1,579 tons of rock. Incorporating an old farm wall, it wends its way through groves of trees before “disappearing” into a lake and “emerging” at the other side. Goldsworthy has noted, Trees, stone, people—these are the ingredients of the place and the work. The stones connect to past and present. Touching the wall can bring luck, as Maud knows well.

Past and present. Mimi told me that cheese shops were commonly built at the crossroads in rural Wisconsin. Whaaat? Gil and I call such facts when used in written works bite-in-the-ass-details. Almost too delectable to be true. BITAD’s.

But I checked in with Rick, a Midwesterner born and bred. His grandpa was a cheese professional – got his degree in cheese-craft at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1930s, then went about the cheese business in rural Wisconsin at crossroads cheese factories. Seriously.

What if you find yourself at a cheese crossroads?

Sometimes –usually — a hammock is the best place to reflect on the tides of life.

My proposal for a book about American forests is out there, wending its way through the publishing quagmire, looking for a home. Waiting to find a home is hard, but I like to think I’ve done good work and the rest will come.

Over every mountain, there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley. That’s what Theodore Roethke said. Lyn said that she recalls a kind minister helping her overcome some of her shyness by appointing her the church’s liturgist – she didn’t foresee that path but will always be grateful.

Charlie used cairns as a backpacking counselor. One trail was on Bomber Mountin in the Bighorns of Wyoming. The group found the WW2 wreckage near a peak, then cairns guided them down a 1,500 foot descent to safety.

Only one thing for certain: there will be peach upside-down cake for dessert.

How many more perfect sunsets will you view in your life?

How many perfect cedar skies?

How many slices of peach upside-down cake? How many Midwestern Van Gogh sunflowers kissing the light?

How many cheeks will you kiss? How many times will your own face be kissed? 

How many sweet summer vacations? I hate to break it to you, the number is finite. 

The ways are innumerable, though, I hope. Keep an eye out for signposts.

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“Intuitive meandering”

read the words on the Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center blackboard. Is there a better kind?

Jane Whitney, citizen-scientist, makes every tiny detail on our meander come alive.

Consummate guide, she leads an ungainly gaggle down a boardwalk at The Ridges preserve in Door County to goggle at things both tiny and large. Not the wilderness of a John Muir, but accessible to those with mobility issues. And that is important.

It’s an orchid-y place, she says. Citizen-scientists have been conducting an inventory with GPS and found 29 kinds here. None blooming now, unfortunately. Otherwise we would see the blossoms of the ram’s head lady slipper, about as big as your little finger. Orchids, it turns out, will not germinate without a fungal partner in the soil. Something she says that I distractedly miss about a baby and a lunchbox. Sounds amazing but my tummy still hurts from all the chocolate-covered almonds I ingested at the bonfire last night. Each orchid contains a fairy dust of 10,000 dust-like seeds. Just DNA on the wing.

Now you’ve got my attention. You know, of course, that Latin names exist for all these plants. Those are for smart alecks, not for us. Did you take Latin in school? It was all I could do to master AP English.

Cat-tails. Where we live, back east, these have all been replaced by phragmites, noxious invasives.

The hardest part of being a citizen-scientist is getting down and getting up again, she says, especially when you’re in your eighth decade.

Ridges and swales, the geographic features of this biome. Turns out this discrete spot in Door County thinks it’s much farther north, and thus earns the title of boreal forest, hosting a northern community of plants and 17 species of warbler that nest here because they think it’s north. Silly warblers. Bailey’s Harbor offers a straight shot down to Chicago. A paleolythic boreal forest, and we’re in it. That must be the magic I sensed. Even the soil beneath our feet is special.

Jane shows us Joe Pye weed, a wonderful plant for your garden – a monarch magnet, and swamp candle a native kind of loosestrife, and therefore okay, not like the purple loosestrife that haunts the byways of America. Joe Pye, named after a New England man who used the plant medicinally for helping people with typhus fever.

Boneset, its close cousin. Self-deprecatingly, our guide points out little short plants on the ground – where else would they be, Jane? Dwarf lake iris, with a purple-yellow bloom in May, this was shoreline once.

Cedars are manifold. The bark, people once knew, could cure scurvy.

Now it is only picturesque.

Only? Differ.

And makes a trail like this give off an aroma better than the finest chi-chi spa.

Even Mimi, a teensy bit anxious to get us here on time. is becalmed.

Goldenrod gets blamed for allergies but ragweed is the culprit when pollen gets up your snoot. Spatter dock. Narrow-leafed loosestrife. Water parsnip. The poetry of wild plants, now forgotten by all but a few. Kalm’s Saint John’s Wort used to be used medicinally by ancient people, the smart people. Kalm traveled to North America from Sweden in 1747 and wrote the first scientific papers on Niagara Falls and on the 17-year cicada, among other marvels. He identified 60 new plant species.

We see tufty things. Standing beside the harebell, my pen runs out of ink, and Jane kindly lends me an extra from Door County Eye Associates. I am reminded of the tours I give at Ellis when she heads us into the shade. You need to be comfortable when learning about the doodlebug, or ant lion, one of nature’s premier engineers, which always goes backwards into an ant hill and knows perfectly the angle of repose. Funny, I thought I had the skinny on that.

A sedge meadow is a good place for mating dragonflies. Or mating anything, if there’s no room at the inn.

Spurred gentian doesn’t get any prettier than this – it’s just a blush, non-spectacular. Yes, gotcha, we all have those days.

In case you worried (I did), the only reason the lower branches of the cedars look dead is because the tree in shade finds it’s too much effort to maintain needles for photosynthesis.

But there are particular signs of continued life for this conifer forest. A recent wind-throw caused a canopy opening that was a gift to the forest floor, making a place for baby balsams to grow. Nurse logs coated in moss sprout seedlings, so if you have a wood lot, leave your wind-throw down. I hear wives rib their husbands: I don’t think you’re going to do that anytime soon. The usual guy-who-knows-everything points out berries that even Jane didn’t see. Mansplaining as popular a pastime in the Midwest as anyplace else.

The black-eyed susans are having a great time. Happy plants. Did you know that lilies of the valley are that modern curse word, invasive, also daisies, brought by European settlers?

I want to take a hot second and talk about… the tour is almost done, time to think about heading to the local brewery. This is Wisconsin, after all.

First, though, the old-old lighthouse with its amazingly small lens.

Its history of being powered by lard, its nationally recognized outhouse.

It’s not all about the wildflowers, you know. But they’re the best. Especially with common names.

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Beef grease begrimed

but content, with bulging bellies, we pull away from Mr. Beef in Chicago and back on to the highway.

If you’ve watched The Bear, streaming on Hulu, you know something about Mr. Beef.

It’s the premier Chicago joint to get an Italian beef sandwich, with great actors – including debatable hunk Jeremy Allen White – telling the story of a guy that inherits his deceased brother’s counter restaurant, the Original Beef of Chicagoland, modeled closely on Mr. Beef. It was even shot on site as well as a sound stage. Also Ayo Edebiri, a fast-rising newcomer who co-stars as his culinary sidekick.

Not debatable, the scrumptiousness of the sandwich sold there,”hand-carved” thin-shaved beef with what is called giardeneria, sautéed vegetables, and then the whole thing dipped in jus.

Okay to eat in the car, especially if you have dogs in the back seat and don’t want to risk broiling them by leaving them there.

Otherwise the counter by the window is the thing.

When I say dipped, I mean bun and all.

Twice-fried french fries also the best, the kind that have you licking salt off your fingers before you surrender to the necessity of wipes.

The highway spools out ahead, the trip post-Mr. Beef energized by Steve Earle’s I Feel Alright, though made somewhat tawdry by Maud’s addiction to true-crime podcasts. Also, Parliament Funkadelic, Flashlight, utilized to good effect at the beginning of the 1990 thriller Misery. James Caan speeds down a mountain road blasting Flashlight on his way to mail the manuscript for a novel he has just finished. Probably the best portrayal of writerly triumph and self-satisfaction in Hollywood history. That is, before meany Kathy Bates gets ahold of him.

Mr. Beef has many fans willing to wait on long lines.

Stars of screen and tube drop in regularly, and autographed head shots adorn the walls. The person at the counter said that Jeremy had come by several weeks ago, stimulating a bout of fan-girling.

There is a back room, but I’ve rarely seen anyone go in there. Well, we have. We’ve been to Mr. Beef many times before, having chanced on it serendipitously when taking a random exit off the road at meal-time.

Alright then, says Maud. Nuff said. That’s just about all you can say with jus dripping down your chin, onto your chest and everywhere else. Alright.

Taking a bite sets off fireworks in your mouth.

The largest (they say) fireworks warehouse on Route 80 welcomed our business, the quiet time between Fourth of July and Labor day.

Hard to know what to get in this multiple-football-field-sized store, between the ones that shoot balls, the boppers, or the ones that simply explode. Even the sparklers look somewhat iffy, though the young lady that checked us out assured us that it would all would be fine for a backyard display.

She also told us that Sturgeon Bay, our ultimate destination in Door County, has a terrific place to go if you want pancakes and also goats on the roof. We looked it up. Yes. It also has Swedish meatballs. Okay, but I believe that pancakes and goats are inherently a better combination.

Perhaps an improvement on Mr. Beef? Goats? Actually, there could be no improvement on Mr. Beef.

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You can read an old-growth forest

if you can interpret signs. It’ll still be tough, they’re so mysterious.

It’s easier if a very astute naturalist has come before you and shown everyone how important it is to preserve these ancient environments. In this case, A.B. Williams, who embraced a stand of woods in Ohio, with the great name North Chagrin Reservation, in the 1930s.

Williams was working toward his doctorate and established a trailside museum here (since burned down and replaced). It’s a maze of a forest rich in 300- and 400-year old beeches, sugar maples, tulip trees, hemlocks and other species. The United Nations has defined old-growth forests as naturally regenerated stands of native tree species where there are no clearly visible indications of human activity and the ecological processes are not significantly disturbed.

Not all trees in an old-growth forest, also called a climax community, are old. Counterintuitive, but true.

Some are though, big old honkers.

This one has significant wounds. It’s still alive! says Maud, looking up.

Compartmentalization. Something trees are great at, humans not so much. What happens is that, according to what tree people call CODIT (compartmentalization of decay in trees, duh), when a tree is wounded it begins to protect itself by slowing or preventing the spread of disease and decay by forming “walls” around the wounded area. Getting into the specifics of this process would take a year and a day, but suffice it to say that the walls run in every direction, ingeniously.

Maud has spent some time in emergency rooms as an r.n. How to deal with deaths there? Yep, that is what she says, compartmentalization. How a person stays sane when there is insanity all around. I know quite a few people now that are having a very hard time dealing with our current dire political situation. They can’t eat, can’t sleep, dream of taking up a new life in Canada or on Fiji, et cetera. They might do well to emulate the trees. Put aside a set amount of time each day to wring your hands and think dark thoughts. Then you can at least enjoy your dinner, and catch some sleep at night.

Wildflowers fringe the forest.

Here in North Chagrin, there are some signs that are a bit inscrutable. How to explain this marking on bark? All suggestions welcome. A map created by druids?

Or this stretch of marked ground where a fallen tree decayed. Looks like someone dragged a body through here.

The hills have eyes. So do some young trees.

We know that people love beech trees, their smooth grey bark, useful for leaving your mark. It seemed a mere toss-up whether she said, ‘I love you,’ or whether she said, ‘I love the beech-trees,’ or only ‘I love—I love.‘ That’s Virginia Woolf, from Night and Day.

Despite the fact that this forest is old growth, that doesn’t in this case mean unspoiled. Some people find peoples’ autobiographical messages on beech bark annoying. I don’t. Thoreau said, I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines. I like to think of someone tramping some miles through North Chagrin, too shy to unburden himself to someone he cares for, and surreptitiously taking switchblade out of pocket to say I love-I love.

There are also black cherries here, some of them quite opinionated. What are you trying to say though, standing there akimbo?

Gigantic hemlocks. Bark that is positively prehistoric.

Soaring tulip trees. They can reach 200 feet tall. Indigenous Americans used their straight solid trunks to build dugout canoes.

Delicate leaves.

Toadstools/mushrooms (your pick) thrive here in the humus.

Craggy roots lay upended, fairy tale characters.

All around, insects buzz. The only sound, aside from the panting of excited dogs. We fall quiet. Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me? Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road.

Here is shagbark hickory, bearing fruit.

There aren’t that many trees whose names denote their appearance. Think: apple, linden, oak, pine, chestnut, on and on. Shagbark is what it is.

When a tree falls in an old-growth forest, you let it lie. Well, most of the time. If it crosses a trail, it’s only mannerly to remove it.

Old-growth forests in the United States are rare. One estimate holds that stands of century-old forest now account for only seven percent of forest cover in America. Another expert puts it at less than four percent. Yet another, six percent. Whatever, it is indisputedly small. Since 1600, 90% of the virgin forests that once covered much of the lower 48 states have been cleared away. It’s sad because they harbor extraordinary amounts of biodiversity, including rare species. The percentage of the world’s forests that are old growth is a bit larger– 21 percent, according to the World Resources Institute.

Occasionally a view opens up, appearing out of nowhere.

Let’s try to interpret the signs. Preserve the canopy, the rot, even the bark scars (nothing is perfect, and sometimes imperfection is wonderful). Visit an old-growth forest near you and place your palms on the trunk of one of these giants.

Fall silent. Dream.

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What is luck?

You make your own, yada yada.

Had a friend who always said we were so lucky. Why? Dunno, just are. It’s our luck to find a dino and a rocking horse hanging out together while we’re first embarking on our trip cross country. 

Maud says, Luck is being afforded an opportunity not of your own making. Also, health and the health of my family. She thinks: Options.   

I’m a bit less lofty. Are you surprised?

Clouds over Pennsylvania. Amazing.

Luck is dipping the most delicious grilled shrimp in the world into the most delicious garlic sauce out of carry-out styrofoam in front of a tv screen choked with monkey pox, soldiers castrated in Ukraine and the kind of massive flood in Kentucky that has people perched on top of rooftops, their life possessions soaked, ruined. It’s not schadenfreude, just being conscious that we are spared – at least for the moment – all the terrible things in the world.

We have so much to be thankful for. It is almost shameful. 

Simplicity: dogs in the back seat, mostly snoozing. Good girl, Ottie.

The end of the day brings us to Mosquito Lake, and specifically the dog park there, outside Youngstown. Get out of the car. Heavenly cool air.

Remembering when Ohio was a marvelous, dangerous, always-startling frontier. Fanny Trollope settled in Cincinnati, determined to capture America in her travelogue—and make her fortune as a writer, which she did. A whip-smart, dowdy, indomitable Briton, she came to 1829 America and her observations caused a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic.

She was broke when she arrived and had never before written a word. No dog parks then, only corduroy roads, tent revivals and the “incessant, remorseless tobacco spitting of American men.”

If you have never read her epic Domestic Manners of the Americans, I will be happy to loan you my copy. 

The dog park at Mosquito Lake rocks. 

Tyson, a lucky German shepherd/husky mix with electric blue eyes, goes algae dunking. 

Beneath the lucky, soaring red oaks, many with multiple stems. 

Mainly today, luck comes in the form of love in the clouds.

Nothing to do but drive, eat, listen to Joni, Both Sides Now, on repeat.

Summer afternoon, summer afternoon, as Henry James famously remarked, to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. James liked to drive, or anyway be driven, by his buddy Edith Wharton in her model T on summer afternoons in the English countryside.

A life of luck.

We are privileged. Life on the road, on a vacation, reminds me of this every day. Life, love and luck. 

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The most pathetic park in the Bronx

might be Corona Parkway Malls, at Southern Boulevard and Elsmere Place. Pathetic as in pathos, evoking pity or sadness.

Never visited? Trash is everywhere.

Despite avid, well-peopled efforts by the Parks Department to keep it clean.

I snapped her photo right before she told me No photos allowed. Really?

Lots of people make this park their home. People that don’t have a roof over their heads are up early, combing their hair, performing ablutions. Washing up at a fire hydrant. Fresh NYC water, among the best in the country (ranked 13th if you must know). Delivered from pristine reservoirs in the Catskills, and furthermore treated with fluoride, chlorine and ultraviolet light so it’s safe to drink.

Nodding out, first fix of the day. Good morning. On to another New York City day collecting bottles. This is what they refer to as an underserved community. Underserved? An understatement, that.

There might be a better city in which to be homeless. But how would you get there? Without anything in your wallet?

One person smoking, scowling, scratching, weeping, dancing by her bench in the style of Indian mudra, delineating shapes in the air with her hands and fingers. Wasted. Grime-tan. I watch her for a while, can’t help myself. She takes her time opening a sleeve of crackers, then polishes them off. Hard to know where crackers go in that skinny little body.

Waiting for my man. (Lou Reed, of course.) This Man comes through in a spiffy pork pie hat and anime tee shirt, collecting fistfuls of cash and deposit ing product in palms. Someone had an open fire one recent night. At 7am, only cinders remain. And a half-full beverage

Amid the wreckage, beauty. Life. Even nature. Red in tooth and claw. (Tennyson.) Pigeons walking the tightrope of a branch. A young London plane.

Common buttonbush – Cephalanthus occidentalis.

Buttonbush in the wild can attract more than two dozen species of bird, including kingbirds, towhees and hummingbirds.

Everlasting roses.

This is Jade. She sticks close, doesn’t need a leash. Nuff said.

Coneflowers that would present the same glowing amethyst countenance in a luckier person’s country garden.

A well-endowed shrine on the site of a historical obelisk.

Memorializing two loved ones short-term visitors to the neighborhood will never know.

Lest you wonder what I’m doing here, I have a job — inspecting the site of a working sidewalk construction crew to make sure no trees in their path some to harm.

So far, no harm, no foul. I’m watching over a 90″ American elm, doing my best to shield it from the ravages.

What is compassion? Is a trait we reserve for humans (sometimes!) or does it extend to trees? Trees care for us, of course – they cannot help it, it’s the way they roll.

Flaggers, lifeblood of the construction industry. Keeping us all safe. Thank you, men. (These flaggers happen to be male, but the women flaggers I’ve met are some of the most fierce mama bears in existence.)

You’d have to work pretty hard and pretty carelessly to break a honey locust. Here they are bringing forth their young seed pods. Cattle in another place like to feed on the green goo that grows inside once they ripen and fall.

Great as these trees might be for urban areas, the powers that be where I live have seen fit to demolish mature honey locust trees in our downtown in order to install new sidewalks. Including half a dozen mature, shade-throwing specimens.

Here in Corona, honey locusts thrive. To the credit of a powerful Parks Department, we do not damage trees in New York City, let alone cut them down.

The shade they cast has been proven crucial to keeping people alive in the sizzling temperatures we have had recently, as the earth fries.

We all need canopy. It’s not an extra, an add-on. It is a life preserver.

Bystanders like to check out what’s going on. Take the morning air, catching what faint breeze there is.

A lucky tree – hurting, perhaps, damaged, yet soldiering on. As if the tree pit wasn’t small enough already, you can see three types of unwanted material dumped at its base. Yet it grows.

Is there still a chance to do better by these folks who call Corona Parkway Malls home? Tree canopy is a start. That goes for everyone, not just the most obviously broken. Which is why it’s a privilege to do a little something to protect this tiny piece of the land, this patch of urban forest, even if only to ensure the backhoe keeps away from the roots.

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