City at the Water's Edge: A Natural History of New York

By Betsy McCully | Go to book overview

8
Forests for Trees

The wooded hill stood in the middle of a leafy suburban New Jersey development. On a beautiful Sunday in September I drove through the neighborhood, enjoying the play of sunlight through the tall trees that shaded the lawns and ranch-style houses. I parked my car in a cul-de-sac at the foot of the hill and got out. I had volunteered to help conduct a census of woody flora in the New York City region for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Native Flora Project, and I had been assigned a grid in New Jersey. My topographical map showed a place named Bunker Hill. Introducing myself to an elderly man who was raking leaves, I told him my purpose and asked about the trees on the hill. He was interested to know that I was doing a survey for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and informed me that he and his neighbors were fighting to preserve the hill from development, trying to get it designated a national historical landmark. “It's the site of a battle dating to the Revolutionary War,” he claimed. His voice quivered with passion. “Already the developers are clearin' tracts and startin' to build. It's a desecration! Those trees have been undisturbed since the Revolution.”1

Once he mentioned the trees, I became excited. My heart beating fast, I trekked up the hill and entered the stand of trees. Tall straight trunks of pignut hickories towered over me, sunlight filtering through their crowns onto the woodland floor, where a few gray squirrels gathered hickory nuts in the thick leafy humus. No understory grew beneath these trees, indicating their age; pignut hickories mature at two hundred years and can live up to four hundred years. Now I understood the tone of reverence in the neighbor's voice, and his passionate desire to preserve this remnant habitat. For me, its historical significance was in its pedigree as old native woodland.

I walked to the crest of the hill, where I saw the source of the old man's distress. A road had been cut through the woodland, and acres already cleared for houses. One house was half constructed.

Closer to my home, in the heart of Prospect Park, a tattered pocket of old native woodland hangs on, despite the encroachment of exotic species like

-111-

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City at the Water's Edge: A Natural History of New York
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction - Coming Home ix
  • 1: Bedrock New York 1
  • 2: The Teeming Shore 16
  • 3: At the Glacier's Edge 32
  • 4: Land of the Lenapes 45
  • 5: Staking Claim 62
  • 6: Muddied Waters 76
  • 7: Footprints 96
  • 8: Forests for Trees 111
  • 9: Urban Flyway 127
  • 10: Weathering 146
  • Notes 161
  • Index 177
  • About the Author 186
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