Monday, November 11, 2013

The Garden of the Skies


  Look up. At the urban oasis of the trees.
            In Eastern Massachusetts November is the month when the streets of the old cities, and in the old residential sections of villages, towns and human settlements everywhere, display their peak performance as occasions of beauty.

            Look up when you walk down the street. It's not the same old street as you think it is. None of the streets are the same as they were a week ago, or even a couple of days ago.

            In our neighborhood people pass blindly by, stalking to the subway or broadcasting their thoughts in those one-way conversations so puzzling to the rest of us. What's that noise? Oh, she-he is on the phone declaiming in a voice to silence the crows and put the hastening squirrels to shame. Just as if he-she is the only person in the world and maybe that's the case are because I don't see anybody else gathering outdoors to celebrate the Time of the Trees.

            You don't have to visit the nation's capital at cherry blossom time or to Vermont, New Hampshire or the Berkshires in October to delight in trees.You can stay home to see the full expression of autumn's beauty, but you do have to open your eyes.

            Look up. The Garden of the Skies is in flower.

            In Eastern Massachusetts this autumn peak comes later than in the postcard regions mentioned above. But it doesn't get any better than here and now in what is sometimes referred to as the "urban forest." That's a telling phrase, I thought, when I first heard it. I still do.

            So step outdoors and find a street (perhaps your own) where traffic varies from light to nonexistent. In old neighborhoods like ours whole quadrants of hours go by without sight or sound of a moving vehicle. Sometimes, when the leaf blowers are still and the walking talkers absent, it's just plain quiet on our "city" streets. Pick your moment and look up at the foliage. The color, shadings, combinations, textures and most of all the pure abundance of the wild forest are here as well. Sometimes with greater variety. Some elms, for instance, survive in the urban forest. The tree the city planted a few years in front of our house is a Chinese elm. It's thriving.

            The maples, perhaps the species with the greatest number of varieties planted in cities and towns, generally hold off until this month before changing colors. Though in the streets of the urban forest as elsewhere the old trees are the most majestic, they don't have to be very old before they are beautiful. (Like people?) Long lines of twenty-something maples make a golden arcade -- exactly the way a king or noble, or oligarch, would have planted his favorite trees along the thoroughfare leading to his mansion. We have them along the curb. They glow like a happy regiment, a family.

            What George Washington literally could not wait to plant in his famous Mount Vernon estate were the many varieties of native American trees, the same beautiful trees we have planted along the streets of out cities and towns. (He so couldn't wait that when he left the army for home after the long years of the Revolution, he rushed the season, planting in January and losing may of his saplings to winter storms.)

            If you're willing to open your eyes to the natural world in the midst of the man-made one, you'll see that many of those native American varieties are still with us; some of our trees are old, some very old, some young but already spreading their canopy. They are a monument to one of humankind's and nature's most successful collaborations. And they are never more beautiful than right now.

            Look up to the foliage against the deep-blue autumn sky! There's your November garden.