Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Tree That Fell To Earth

Photo by spikeblacklab
On Sunday evening around 730pm, I was walking on a meandering tree-flanked public pathway known as the Bronx River Park, that follows the course of the shallow and gently flowing Bronx River.

I have walked these paths before. I've always liked how the entire snaky park consists mostly of the flood plain of the river, and some unusual vegetation grows along the river banks. And not just clutching the river's edge — there are a spread of tall reeds fanning out for quite a distance on either side of the river's banks at several places. The Bronx River is also New York City's only fresh water course. It's always peaceful there, though for a short distance, trains on the MetroNorth railroad roar past occasionally.

At a slow curve in the river, with the path following the same bend, I passed several large trees -- the above photo is from the Bronx River Park, but the trees you see in that scene are hardly of the girth and venerability of the trees to which I am referring. Four or five great trunks, the kind which two grown men could barely reach around and touch each other's hands, so I am haphazardly guessing they may be eighty to one hundred years old...

As I pass in the gloom -- it is just past dusk -- I hear a strange noise from one of the trees. It sounds as if someone is up the tree, or something is up there, rattling and scratching and making quite a noise. There is not another soul to be seen anywhere near me in the park.

I glanced up at the great dark tree, its branches just visible against the night sky. And as I can't see anything, I walk on. But the noise persists, and if anything gets louder. There is a TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP! sound just like a woodpecker, and another sound underneath, more high-pitched, a sound which I can't even begin to focus on, as I turn and start to walk back towards the tree. And I stop, ten feet from the trunk, peering up into the dark branches, noticing for the first time what seemed like dust or debris showering down the trunk from above..............................

Nothing prepared me for what happened next. TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP—.....then, the entire tree, from about twice my height up the trunk, cracked off and smashed down into the river, crashing to earth with a huge BOOOM!...

The tree had just died. Right as I was staring at it. It felt like something between an omen and a tragedy, a dream, and its prophetic fulfilment. I stood, ironically rooted to the spot. I stared for many minutes. A minute or two after the crash, I glanced at the time — 7:49pm, so it fell at roughly 7:46 or 7:47pm.

Most of the tree lay in huge rotten and shattered hunks in the river, which flowed in and around it. In time, I suppose, park workers might come and cut up and carry away most of the tree, but already the river had found its adaptive flow around and away the sudden barrier. In 'Song of a Brook,' Tennyson wrote in the voice of a waterway: "For men may come and men may go, but I go on forever." That goes for trees as well.