"God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools." -- John Muir
My lunchtime walks may be good for the body, but they're not always good for the soul. Especially when I come across sights like this one: a red maple broken in half by vandals. I wonder to myself whether the cause was anger or frustration. Or was someone just trying to act tough to impress his friends?
I should pity the poor fool who did this. Instead, I feel sorry for the tree. It didn't ask for much -- just a place to spread its roots and gather nutrients and moisture. In return, it would provide decades of beauty and welcoming shade. If you don't think that's worth much, try walking a downtown street on a hot summer day without the protective cover of trees. You'll be looking for the nearest awning in no time.
And yet we treat street trees with such disdain. Check out this poor honey-locust tree. Hemmed in on all sides by concrete and asphalt, even the small amount of exposed soil is covered in plastic! Yet it manages to hang in there. (Warning: Don't try this at home!)
This newly planted sycamore has it a little bit better (at least it has a larger bed). But as a wide-branching species, it will someday outgrow that location and need severe pruning. Then it will only serve half of its original purpose - the beauty will disappear quicker than you can say "chainsaw massacre."
I'm reminded of a famous quote from Proverbs: "Grow where you are planted." That's easier for some than it is for others. A tree grown in rich, well-drained soil has its advantages, especially if there is plenty of sunshine and water at hand. Street trees often aren't so lucky. They face the three P's: pavement, pollution, and power lines.
Nature, fortunately, provides solutions for all sorts of troublesome situations. Black locust trees sneer at the dry, stony soils of old quarries because they can manufacture their own nitrogen literally out of thin air. Bald cypress trees have the ability to develop "knees" so they can grow in the middle of a swamp.
And thanks to careful breeding, there are now a number of species bred especially for the confined spaces between sidewalk and street. No more drastic pruning needed, like with this oak.
Adaptability. It's what gives some trees the moxie to deal with street life. Surrounded by concrete and anointed with road salt and dog urine, they play the cards that they've been dealt. We can learn from their example. We can even emulate these battered-yet-proud survivors by adapting ourselves to handle whatever adversity comes our way.
In the end, whether we're a coddled specimen tree on an estate or a neglected sentinel lining a city street, it's our duty to live up to our potential. Trees do it. Why shouldn't we?