Tuesday, July 03, 2018

9/11 Memorial Plantings

Stymied from reaching our intended destination of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden by various closed subways on a Sunday afternoon, we found ourselves close by the World Trade Center site, and decided to take a look. The footprints of the twin towers have each been turned into chasms where curtains of water fall from one depth down into a still deeper abyss. The symbolism is powerful--ascension transformed into endless descent. The curtains of water, played with by the wind, can sometimes appear to be pulling apart, as if something were about to be revealed, but the moment passes and the water returns to a uniform downward motion.

There is so much to grieve there, the lives lost on the site and on that day--their names etched into the frame of metal--and all the lives lost in distant lands due to the nation's skewed response in the years that followed. There is so much that I wish I could pull back up from the darkness at the center of the sunken pools.

But this post was to be about the plantings we saw, which were hundreds of swamp white oaks planted in rows. Swamp white oaks can be found occasionally planted along Princeton's streets, and growing naturally in low-lying forests. Strange that a species found naturally in water-logged lowlands would grow well in the dry, compacted soils of city streets, but the tree is adapted to the low oxygen levels that both soils share. Some of the 9/11 trees came from a NJ nursery that specializes in memorial plantings.

Water used to sustain the trees comes from underground cisterns that capture runoff.

Nearby is St. Paul's Cathedral, which improbably survived the crash of the towers. The cemetery behind the church is filled with headstones grown faceless with time.

Along the fringe of the cemetery grows a pure stand of what looks like a native sedge (on the right in the photo)--the sort that gets only a foot or so high and can form expansive, parklike sedge meadows in local woodlands.

NY City now grows many other unexpected echoes of native habitats, the most recent discovery being Brooklyn Bridge Park, where one of the trails runs along a beautifully maintained stream habitat packed with native species.

But that joy of diversity might be out of place at the 9/11 memorial and St. Paul's Cathedral, where the monocultures of swamp white oak and sedge seem intended instead to reinforce a uniform response of grief.

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