A tree grows in Seminole Manor Neighborhood.
January 1, 2013 § 11 Comments
I was in Pearl River, New York, weed-skinny, and casting a modest shadow, but aspiring toward the sky.
Here in Tallahassee, surrounded by just-built stucco cottages intended to house the officers of Mabry Airfield, the young live oaks were doing the same.
We were all brand spanking new then: me, the houses, and the live oaks.
While they stood in sunlight and rain, I learned to walk, to ride a bike on a gravel driveway, to zip a snowsuit. I wasn’t here to see those saplings, but I can imagine them, scrawny and vulnerable to one good whack with a lawnmower.
At about fifteen I reached the height of five foot six and stopped. At fifteen, the oaks were just becoming sturdy, about as big around as I was. Not imposing yet, but hard to overlook.
By then the airfield was long closed, the cottages repainted different colors—maybe some of them were growing too, with tacked on rooms and sun porches.
By the time my husband, daughter and I moved to Seminole Manor more than sixteen years ago the oaks had caught up. Like me they had reached their mature size.
Our new neighborhood was anchored by these grand old oaks, and by a handful of elderly women who had moved to the neighborhood as brides. For all I know they, or their newly-minted husbands were the ones who planted the trees that had drawn us to this particular neighborhood.
Like the trees, I considered those widows the guardians of the neighborhood, and it crossed my mind fleetingly that I’d like to become one of them if that much time ever passed.
The last of those women to go was Jewell Harrison who died at eighty-nine. My favorite neighborhood tree stands in her yard although she once told me, “You should’ve seen it when my kids were small. It had another limb on the other side. We hung the swing from it.”
Like those grandmotherly women, the trees are going. There’s something about the erratic weather, the droughty summers, that is taking them out. The insistent growl of a chainsaw in the neighborhood breaks my heart.
Sadly, no one seems to be planting more live oaks. Instead they are planting fifteen year trees like dogwoods, and non-natives like crepe myrtles, trees that give near instant gratification, but will never cast the kind of shade that cools a house or spread limbs strong enough to support a swing.
We are doing far better when it comes to replacing those rooted sturdy female guardians of the neighborhood. In fact there are more of us than ever.
Collectively we run an in-home library for the neighborhood kids, make daily rounds to pick up trash, build and tend community gardens, keep an eye out for what doesn’t look right when we walk the neighborhood, and look in on sick neighbors.
What we need now is a tree planting project, one that will put trees in the ground we will never see reach their mature height, but that will be waiting for the next generation of neighborhood grandmothers to grow up.
We owe it to a girl who is still several Christmases away from her first two-wheeler, we owe it to Jewell Harrison and to ourselves.
Nothing commemorates our time in a place as well as a tree.