Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Homage to the Next Generation of Trees

One fairly rare sighting, both in Princeton's woodlands and parks and along streets, is a young tree. The great Mercer Oak that was finally blown down after 300 years of life was replaced in 2000 with an offspring, but how about all the other trees that have been lost in recent years, and will be lost if the predictions of Princeton's recently completed tree inventory prove correct? Perhaps we've gotten out of the habit of planting trees, having long been spoiled by their abundance.

This blog takes all sides on trees, praising one tree, ruing another, finding tranquility in a deep forest or opportunity in the sun-filled opening a fallen tree leaves behind, and ever thankful for how they give both in life and death.

This post offers examples of young trees growing in auspicious locations, and all the wonderful work they are already doing.

First, I'd like to thank a neighbor for letting a volunteer red oak grow in a perfect spot to shade my driveway and pickup truck. They probably haven't even noticed it, but I do. Seems like just the other day it was a little sprig peeking over the fence.

And thanks to the folks, too, who paid for a tree to be planted in Potts Park to celebrate the birth of their son. We chose the spot carefully, wanting it to eventually shade the play equipment through the summer, but not be out in the field where it might intersect with a kid running after a ball. Many swings and play structures around the world are not being allowed to live up to their full potential, abandoned by kids when they overheat in summer for lack of a tree.

Another red maple, though perhaps better to have been planted on the house side of the sidewalk, is beginning to fill one of the many gaps along our streets. We need many more trees like this one to keep Princeton's pavement from baking in the summer. The more this tree shades and transpires, the less pedestrians will perspire.

Hard to believe that not long ago this pin oak and American elm were little two foot volunteer seedlings my neighbors transplanted to their front yard. Their faith in the growth force in modest saplings, and the remarkable way time has of passing, is quickly yielding a visual buffer and afternoon shade for their house.

This backyard tulip poplar was another volunteer transplanted to a spot well away from the house.

This young backyard white oak is doing a good imitation of Mercer Oak Jr. over at Princeton Battlefield. Just beyond the fence, in Potts Park, a grove of white oaks planted by the town has matured into a favorite spot for picnics and birthday parties.

Another friend has started a pawpaw patch in their "back 40",

and a fig tree bearing delicious figs in a protected spot next to the driveway.

Though ginkgoes don't support wildlife the way native trees do (a recent article in the NY Times reports that only a few insects feed on ginkgo, while an oak serves up food for more than 500 insect species), these stilty varieties are shading the way along an improbably narrow space over at the Princeton Healthcare Center.

I like to think that the proximity of young trees, with their dynamic growth happening at our level, puts us better in touch with an aspirational energy that can feed our own. When I hear Copland's Appalachian Spring, I think of young landscapes--prairies and early successional stages. In addition to the mature beauty of a forest, we need among us these renewing landscapes, these fresh beginnings, to feed our spirit.

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