When we bought our suburban home–lo, those many years ago–it was the trees that sealed the deal.
The wonderful mighty oaks on both sides of the street stretched toward the middle, forming a leafy canopy elegant enough to welcome a royal procession.
For a young couple with a toddler, seeking refuge after a steamy summer on the sidewalks of Brooklyn, New York, those trees made us feel like royalty.
Driving beneath them on that November day, we felt graced by their presence. The natural chemical programming that guided their leaves from green to yellow to red to russet had reached its apex.
We, who had vowed never again to move to the “burbs,” were converts on the spot: we’d found our home, and we eagerly signed on the dotted line.
But as I described in my post “Buzz Saw Ambivalence,” the ravages of time and worsening storms had taken their toll on our block.
One after another, the open spaces multiplied where trees had once stood. In front of some homes, all that remained as reminders were the newish sidewalk sections redesigned to swoop around roots that had pushed up the original concrete at odd angles, creating a dangerous terrain.
Last year, after some near-fatal accidents from trees falling on homes, the town removed them all from our two-block-long street.
Nearly a year later, with a degree of immaturity unbecoming my age, I still can’t get used to this barren environment. Though the houses are all different, our area has taken on the appearance of a development.
The town had promised they’d replace the trees. But when—and with what?
Last month, a flyer appeared in our mailbox. There had apparently been a Zoom session with the township manager and several neighborhood meetings that we’d missed.
Two of our neighbors—one next-door, the other across the street—complained via the flyer that the town was ignoring their suggestions about the type of trees they felt best suited our mature street–while remaining native to our geographical area. They advocated dogwoods.
The town plan called for two different trees: ginkgoes on the south side; lilac trees on the north side.
Why two distinctly different trees? Because the north side has utility wires, and the town didn’t want to have to prune trees that grew into the wires. Those on the south side would get trees that would grow high enough to provide shade.
We on the north side, apparently the “what are we—chopped liver?” cohort, would be left to bake in the noonday sun. Lilac trees are lovely, but…
The ginkgoes had an even worse problem.
We attended the Zoom meeting and listened to our neighbors’ complaints. The township manager and his arbor experts were polite, patient, and good-humored in the face of the harangues.
They explained that dogwoods were unsuitable because their roots grow out sideways and not deeply, and they’re prone to contract many diseases.
The dogwood devotees were convinced.
I then raised my concern. “If the decision to plant ginkgoes is firm,” I said, “please make sure the trees are male. When the fruit of female ginkgoes is crushed, the stench will make our neighborhood unlivable.”
This was not, I hasten to note, a casually sexist remark. I’m not sure why Mother Nature thought it was a good idea to imbue female ginkgoes with a perfume that another neighbor said “smells like vomit, or dog poop.”
But we had had fairly recent personal experience to validate that description.
Attending the funeral of a beloved relative a few years ago, we were overwhelmed by the pervasive and very pungent odor. “That’s the ginkgoes,” someone explained.
I knew, of course, that ginkgoes have some fine properties. Inspired by traditional Chinese medicine, ginkgo biloba is used for diverse health conditions.
In doing the research that revealed the odoriferous part of the trees is the fruit from the females, I also learned that ginkgoes are dioecious: both male and female trees grow flowers, but different flowers appear on each.
Most intriguing, the ginkgo is said to be the oldest living fossil, “unchanged for more than 200 million years.” A fascinating tree, with that singular big drawback.
The town officials didn’t respond to my statement, but I felt confident that if they stuck with ginkgoes, they’d choose the males. And in the only instance I can ever recall, I thought such blatant sex discrimination would be just fine.
Fortunately, that first Zoom meeting sent the town officials back to the drawing board, and they returned a week later with a brand new decision: Autumn Blaze Maples for all.
And everyone is happy! Local government at its best!
We eagerly await the new kids on the block. Each will come with a packet of care and feeding instructions to help us help them acclimate well and want to stay around for a long, long time.
I’m a bit worried, however, as I do not have an excellent track record with greenery gifted by gracious friends and family.
We must hope that our youngster is hardy enough to thrive as it overcomes not only the rigors of climate change, but also the hazards of my well-meaning but regrettably sere thumb.