Spring has brought with it the annual reminder that some kinds of human activity can be beneficial for the planet. Our lives in King William are lived under the greatest green canopies in the city. The leaves have reappeared and are now fully unfurled like thousands of pennants animated by the slightest movement of air. The first bright greens of early spring have deepened into richer, deeper, hues, signaling the darker pools of shade collecting on the ground beneath them.
We live in an urban forest, one that would be largely non-existent if the neighborhood’s pioneering homeowners hadn’t planted so many trees over a century ago. Tree planting was a nation-wide phenomenon in 19th century American cities, and altered, largely for the better, the micro-climates of dusty plains towns and South Texas cities, literally changing their profile with the billowing forms of treetops high above roof ridges and chimneys.
There could hardly be a better symbiotic relationship than that of humans and trees. We exhale carbon dioxide that trees crave, and they help make the oxygen we breathe. If only new tree planting could keep pace with the rate at which they are being removed in other parts of the world.
There is the annual annoyance of picking up after our looming neighbors - I have 25 deciduous trees around my house - but it seems like a small price to pay for the shade, the air in my lungs, and the sight of leaves back-lit by the sun, highlighting their complicated structures of veins and fabric. There is something aqueous about the light under a tree in the summer; the dappled light is a little like being under water.
I’ve always loved the vistas framed by trees in old southern neighborhoods. They become verdant tunnels arcing completely overhead, a bazaar made of branches and foliage, mercifully shading passersby from the African light and heat of a southern sun.
Unfortunately they, like we, have life spans and the fates measure their days as they do ours. I think we’ve begun to realize that the greatest trees in King William, the pecans that are more than 100 years old, are beginning to pass from the realm of the living, like old soldiers whose generation is vanishing in ever increasing numbers. Unlike old soldiers however, they don’t expire quietly but often meet their ends in violent collapses brought on by wind and rain.
Among the things that help give scale to human mortality is the sight of a toppled tree. The mass of it, the sheer amount of once living matter, is staggering to behold. All that weight, all those leaves, all those chambers of cellulose remind us of how much greater the natural world is than the one of our own making.
- Michael Guarino