C.W. Gusewell


An urban forest erupts in splendor

Summer is not yet quite officially upon us, but already we are wrapped in greenery.

In many of this country’s and the world’s great cities, the dominant components of the landscape are cement and steel and glass. Oh, there are parks – islands of nature to which the inhabitants of those manufactured places can retreat.

New York is such a place. Chicago is another. That’s not to say that happy and productive lives can’t be lived there. But I would find it troubling to wake each day where the view from my bedroom window offered only the masonry face of a neighboring building and where the first song of morning was a siren’s howl.

We pass our days in a far different setting. We live in what might fairly be called an urban forest.

And at this moment the forest is in full leaf.

Along many of our thoroughfares the branches of trees on both curbs arch over to make an unbroken canopy.

Mature oaks and maples dominate the skyline. From the home office where I work, I cannot even see the houses on each side or the one across the street. Towering foliage obscures them.

In a past time the city’s dominant trees were elms. They lined every major boulevard and turned a dazzling gold when autumn came. But an infestation of bark beetles doomed them, and hardwoods largely took their place.

The spring ornamentals – the redbuds, dogwoods and magnolias – made a splendid show in April and early May. They’re finished now. But all at once, as if by agreement, the irises, daffodils, peonies and knockout roses have erupted in bloom.

And this forest of ours is not hospitable only for growing things but for living creatures as well.

Once this spring, a large hawk came to perch on our backyard fence, and for two days the chipmunks that live in the gutter downspouts refused to show themselves.

Another morning, a barred owl stationed himself on a branch outside our bedroom window and sounded reveille with his strident hooting.

And one afternoon several years ago, a handsome adult red fox came trotting across our front yard, confident and composed as a mail carrier on his rounds.

This is the city I’ve known my whole life. I cannot imagine, whatever other amenities it offered, living in some place where nature had been utterly defeated.

I’ve never even considered trying.