Monday, June 18, 2007

Sidewalk Trees of Park Slope

My favorites are the great Red Oak on President Street, down by the Berkeley Carroll pool, and the American Elms on Third Street. There's one across the street from my friend Jerry's house, just up from Seventh Avenue. There's another great one almost at PPW, on the inside of the sidewalk. My wife Melody calls it an eight-story elm.

Third Street is especially wonderful for sidewalk trees.

I grew up in a part of Brooklyn that had no sidewalk trees. Herkimer Street, the eastern end of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Our streets were hot, hot, hot in the summer. Of course we didn't care, we were too busy running around and having fun. I can remember the pavement kind of soft beneath our Skelly game. The only coolness we got was from opening the hydrants, till the cops came around.

But my dad was a preacher, so we had a parsonage and the only big yard on the street, and inside our spiked iron fence we had apple trees in the back and a maple tree on the side. The apple trees were thick with branches and great for just sitting in (you could even read the Hardy Boys up there). And our friends used to gather in our yard, mostly for the trees.

The maple tree was the only big tree on our block. It reached out over the sidewalk and part of Dewey Place. It had a long branch just high enough that you could climb up our fence and swing up to it and then, if you had guts, jump down to the ground. (I think I was nine before I finally jumped.) We found scraps of wood and old nails and pounded ladders up the trunk and built a fort, of course.

It was a Norway Maple. Now it's considered a weed tree, but that tree inspired my love of trees. I think it's why as a child I liked maples best, thought now it's white pines that I love.

Compared to the R.O.B. (the rest of Brooklyn) we have so many sidewalk trees in Park Slope and Windsor Terrace. We're spoiled. What they add to the quality of life is incalculable.

I never see any kids climbing these trees. Insurance? Health? Safety? I never see kids building ladders up their trunks. Maybe it's illegal now. Maybe they do it in their backyards. Of course, the trunks of those sidewalk elms and oaks are lofty and daunting; I'd have been afraid of them myself. But I think the sycamores would have drawn our crowd of kids to enter them.

Blecchh. Too much nostalgia here. There's a big ailanthus right outside my window as I write. It judges me. I have always hated them. (In Bed-Stuy dialect we called them "shumac".) Its species did not ask to be imported to America, but once it was brought here, its genes decided to flourish. Its genes are generous to a fault, and tolerant, and tough. They judge me. I repent beneath its coolness, greenth, and shade.

I wonder how far up it I could get.

No comments: