By Linda Hart Green
I grew up with “sand between my toes,” as my parents used to say. The New Jersey shore was my second home. My mother told me that on my first car ride to the shore as a tiny infant, I fussed in the car on the trip. As soon as she laid me on the bed at my grandmother’s house with the salt air blowing through the curtains of the open windows, I kicked my feet and cooed. I found my happy place at an early age.
When it came time for retirement, I chose this sweet town by the ocean that no one in New Jersey had heard of. The historic downtown reminded me of my beloved Cape May, but was smaller and less commercial. I could watch fishing boats and sunsets and have ready access to the beach. I moved here not knowing anyone at all. My mother was in her late 80s at the time and she moved here with me. When walking on the sand became too difficult for her, we sat in the parking lot at Main Beach with the car windows open so she could hear the surf and watch the waves.
I am surprised by how much I have fallen in love with the trees now that I have lived here for 11 years. The grandeur of the ancient live oaks make my eyes widen in awe. When the late day sun glistens through the Spanish moss casting dancing shadows, my heart sings. I drink my morning coffee on my back porch soaking in a kaleidoscope of greens. I don’t give up sitting out there even if it is chilly. I wrap up in a blanket. I have learned how trees are the mainstay of this fragile barrier island, holding it in place with their roots. I have painted scenes with live oaks and their sprawling twisted branches. I like to drive around to see the biggest, oldest ones I can find. Driving through a tree canopy over a road feels like being in a big green Gothic cathedral.
Six years ago, when I became a partner in an art gallery business, we named it “Shady Ladies” because our first location was at the corner of Elm and South Eighth streets under the shade of a heritage tree whose canopy stretches over almost a whole block. People used to come into the gallery and ask if they were allowed to hug the tree. Many did give it a hug and they also took photos.
I mourned when the tree at the corner of Atlantic Avenue at 10th Street came down. Many mourned with me. Others have been nonplussed about it. Everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and feelings and I don’t judge. Here are a few gleanings I have taken from this event.
- The tree contributed a lot to our community over many decades and deserved a more dignified ending than to be surrounded by “sidewalk closed” signs. I think of all the laughing children that spilled out of the schoolhouse into its shade. I think of all the churchgoers in suits and hats crossing the street under its branches on their way to and from worship. We could have paid better attention and honored its contributions. We could have at least gifted its wood to local woodworkers to make something beautiful of the leftovers.
- In the creation story in Genesis 1 of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, text has been translated as humans are to have “dominion over” the natural world. We have taken this Westernized translation and run with it. We are not nature’s bosses. The tree didn’t do anything wrong. It just grew. We were the ones who cemented around it and deprived it of nutrients and neglected it when it showed signs of stress and something could have been done to help. All trees go through cycles of growth with some years more robust than others. Just like humans.
- This foundational text also teaches that we are supposed to be caretakers and live in harmony with the natural world. We should find a way to say not just “sorry” to the tree but also to offer nature some kind of restitution. If you really look into it, there should be nothing within the “root protection zone” around the base of a live oak tree which is 1 1/2 times LARGER than the area from the trunk to the farthest tip of the longest branch! That horse left the barn in our town a very long time ago. Given today’s situation, we could learn best practices from national experts and employ them.
Just as I write, the news announces that the iconic Sycamore Gap Tree at Hadrian’s wall in England was felled in an act of vandalism by an adolescent who is in custody.
Here we see the generational repercussions of bad teaching and poor examples.
My artist friend, Lyn Asselta, said this about the tree vandalism in her blog, “Saturdays at the Cove, Sept. 30.” Her words apply here too.
“The oldest trees among us have lived through adversity, endured, witnessed, sheltered, shaded, and protected. They are nature’s talismans. They are storied and wise. They breathe. The network of their roots communicate. They are landmarks, proud, constant and true.”