Wednesday, August 19, 2009

nature bats last

In 1999, after a month a week and a day on the road in my old Explorer I made it from the eastern end of Long Island cross country to my new home in Half Moon Bay, California. There I would spend the winter and spring living with two dear friends from college on one of the most beautiful properties I have ever seen. I had always wanted to surf the Pacific and Bob and Annie were learning to surf and loving it. We would load up their beautiful west coast longboards and my little eastern shortboard in Annie's amazing old blue Subaru wagon. You might know the type. It was one of those cars that went forever, unsuspecting with the baby blue paint job and wagon shape, yet had a persona all it's own and was loved and respected by all who knew it. The back of the Subaru was covered with a sensational collection of bumper stickers. Each one I had never seen before, and I''mnot kidding, covered. Some, like "Millenium Schmillenium" were of course very apt for the time, and in fact got many positive honks, but ultimately you knew their wonderful datedness would cause them to fade. So over the winter months and the evening sessions at the jetty there was one that stuck out. It was yellow with text, not too fancy or ornate. It just said, "nature bats last". Clever, I thought, now that is a timeless statement. I can't tell you how many times I have said "nature bats last" in the 10 years since then, but most times I can tell you I still think about Annie's blue Subaru and that glorious Pacific winter in HMB.

So, on my way to work in the morning I walk through a bunch of NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) houses between the subway station and Central Park. As I came out of the tunnel below the elevated train I stopped dead in my tracks. Whoa.

Usually I think the London planetrees around the houses are wonderful specimens, even though overplanted into monoculture status, and often I wish I had brought my camera. Today I clearly wanted my camera for another reason, but luckily the cell phone would suffice. It really looked like a bomb had gone off, through my arboreal eyes at least. Apparently the insane thunder and lightning storms that came through last night did one hell of a job from 90th Street to 110th Street in Manhattan. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, and I have seen plenty of storms and storm damage before. I love hurricanes. But what I would ultimately find made every thing else look like a tiny drop in the bucket.
Limbs down everywhere, pretty much every tree lost a limb or two.
Some limbs were huge and still hanging like this one above. In these situations after a major storm people want to go out and inspect, see what happened, it's part of human nature. The danger however is that people are often looking down at what has fallen and not looking up at what has broken and has yet to fall. ...that which could break and fall any minute. That's what us arbor geeks call a "hanger". You know what they call a big enough hanger? A widowmaker. no joke.
Seeing how many trees and how much wood was on the ground, I knew I was going to find plenty of new surprises. I think that's when it might have slipped out. Nature bats last. Before I left this scene and continued on my commute I took my own advice and looked up. Right above the entrance to the playground I saw three hangers, frighteningly well camouflaged.
Right away I saw a hole between the Conservatory Garden and the Mount facility where a maple and an oak, or two or three, had been. It's that area above the left staircase, that used to be all green.
I found where the maple landed soon after.
The stump in the foreground was a beautiful Japanese tree lilac that only yesterday was shading the woodland slope. The crabapple in the back was lucky, but didn't get away unscathed.
The Conservatory Garden was closed to the public for the day, and for good reason, the hazards were plenty and the space quickly limited.
I apologize I don't have an item in the shots for scale, because the sight of these huge trees so broken and scattered was mind blowing.
Above is the body of that maple I was talking about. This tree fell right above the space where the garden staff keeps their equipment. I was just so glad that the storm came well after dark, and hope that most people were out of the park by the time all this went down. Because that storm came fast and wasn't taking names.
So wild to look around and see trunks a foot in diameter, larger, splintered and snapped like they were toothpicks. The tree below easily had a 12" caliper.

You know how when it rains it is easier to weed? Have you ever noticed that? After a strong rain when the ground is wet or saturated pulling up the roots of weeds becomes much easier. So you can correlate that to near-hurricane force winds and stormwater and how those sails of foliage quickly and almost effortlessly tear out of the ground entire rootmasses, as tall as you and then some.
This guy below was the biggest I saw, but that was just the tip of the iceberg according to others in the park.

Finally, here is the root system of the maple that we saw the head of in front of the south building and the body of on the south terrace. You can see how this seedling had grown up right beside the concrete base to the fence that surrounds the garden. And why not. With the natural freezing and thawing of the seasons the concrete provided the roots of the maple with two things they love most, namely moisture and fresh air. The one thing it didn't help provide however was grip into the surrounding terrain.

customer: "Taste the soup."
waiter: "Sir, what's wrong with the soup?"
customer: "Just taste the soup."
waiter: "Is it too spicy, too salty, sir, I can get you another..."
customer: "I don't want you to get me another, I want you to taste the soup."
waiter: "Okay, sir, if you insist, I'll taste the soup. Wait, where's the spoon?"
customer: "Ah, haa!"

Nature: 1
Humans: 0

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