Urban foliage

Had an exhilarating time in New York last week, walking the streets, soaking in the humanity-cacophony gumbo. Each time I go there I come away with a different mood or impression. This time it was joyful.

One little theme that emerged was the presence of vegetation amidst the built:

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From Richard Powers

Bestselling fiction often makes me feel jerked around. But here is a favorite passage in Powers’ The Overstory, in which two people have just arrived at a platform 200 feet up a California redwood, having undertaken a political tree-sit. They’re beginning to explore the world that exists among the branches of the massive, thousand-year-old tree. It’s tree-as-landscape:

“From high above, she calls, ‘Huckleberries! A whole patch up here.’

“Bugs swarm, iridescent, parti-colored, minuscule horror-film monsters. He works his way to a strange junction, careful never to look down. Two large beams, over the course of centuries, have flowed together like modeling clay. He grapples to the top of the hillock and finds it hollow. Inside is a small lake. Plants grow along a pond flecked with tiny crustaceans. Something moves in the shallows, speckled all over in chestnut, bronze, black, and yellow. Seconds pass before Nick coughs up a name: salamander. How did a damp-seeking creature with inch-long limbs climb two-thirds of the length of a football field, up the side of dry, fibrous bark? Maybe a bird dropped it here, fumbling a meal into the canopy. Unlikely. The chest of the slick creature rises and falls. The only plausible explanation is that his ancestors got on board a thousand years ago and rode the elevator up, for five hundred generations.

“Nick edges himself back the way he came. He’s propped up in the corner of the Grand Ballroom when Maidenhair returns. She’s ditched the safety umbilical. ‘You’ll never believe what I found. A six-foot hemlock, growing in a mat of soil this deep!'”