As a New Yorker, I imagine you could easily list the best things within a few blocks your home: the closest deli, Thai restaurant, drop-off laundry location, bar, and the best subway car for your preferred exit.
But here’s a question that may stump you. Can you tell me about your closest tree?
Take a Good Long Look
Today I invite you to take a careful, considered look at the tree nearest to your home. If, like me, you could easily list the best neighborhood places to eat, drink, and shop, but drew a blank when thinking of your closest tree, this could prove to be a worthwhile experiment.
Even if you are one of the lucky ones with vast arboreal knowledge, I ask that you also play along. You may see something new or unexpected.
The First Meeting
I invite you walk to up to your closest tree and spend at least five minutes examining it. Imagine you must describe the tree to a sketch artist. What would you say?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- How tall is it?
- What sort of shape does it make overall?
- If you had to hazard a guess, does it look like a younger or older tree?
- What are the shapes of the branches? Wide? Low? Crooked? Spindly?
- How would you describe the bark? Smooth, speckled, furrowed?
- If there are leaves, what are the shapes of the leaves? What color? Do the leaves grow opposite of each other or do they alternate?
- Is there fruit on the tree? Have blossoms or nuts fallen from it?
- Do you think anything lives in it?
- Do you know the type of tree it is? If not, are you curious?
Notice Your Neighbor in the Future
When you really look at the tree it may feel like meeting a neighbor for the first time: you are not sure how the interaction will go, you may feel a little awkward, but afterwards, it’s easier to say hello. Now that you’ve “met” the tree, you may find it easier to notice it in the future. You may take note if its branches are bare in winter, its first buds and leaves in spring, and the color of its leaves in fall. This neighbor tree offers you a daily opportunity to notice change.
If you know the species of your neighbor tree, that’s great. But – this is important – you don’t have to know the name of something to really notice it. If your curiosity is piqued and you want to identify the tree, learn more with Leslie Day’s helpful guide to the street trees of New York City.
Places in NYC to Notice Trees
I recommend you start with the closest tree to your apartment. If you want to expand the experiment, here are a few of my favorite places to notice and compare trees:
- Inwood Hill Park
- The Ravine in Prospect Park
- Greenwood Cemetery
- The Ramble in Central Park
Want to learn more about estimated 5.2 million trees in NYC? Check out the efforts by Million Trees NYC or help map the street trees at Trees Count.
Please let me know how your meeting goes in the comments below. I’m curious.
My closest tree it’s an acorn. There are a number of squirrels that live there. The acorns are looking and narrow, and golden in color. They fall in September, I think.
Thanks, Jim, for chiming in on your closest neighbor tree. I love that you took a moment or two to consider it.
I look forward to meeting trees in New York, but I’m too busy taking the abundance of trees in Missouri for granted at the moment. I love your list, though, and particularly your focus on the “daily opportunity to notice change.” Something I need more of in my life. Thanks, Traci.
Thanks, Christopher, for the kind comment. I hope to add a few more ideas about how to notice change in the near future. Enjoy the verdant Missouri trees!
I say hi every morning to the littleleaf linden outside my apt building. Now I’ll have figure out the other trees on my block and walk to work – they just planted new trees on park ave south – think elms? Thanks Traci for a great insight and site.
Thank you, M, for the comment. One of my favorite trees is the Little Leaf Linden. I remember the first time I discovered the scent of the linden blooming. You’ll have to let me know if your neighbor tree smells sweet soon. I’d love to find out what you learn when you “meet” the new trees on Park Ave South.
The closest tree to my apartment was planted by the city. It has smooth bark and pretty straight branches. The leaves have sharp jagged edges and grow in an alternating pattern. The are shaped like a pointed oval and about 3 inches long. The branches are high off of the ground, so not suitable for climbing. Some of the lower branches have been sawed off and on some evenings it’s packed with very noisy birds. I haven’t seen the birds yet, since the canopy is quite dense. I have no idea what it is, but I might call it Charlie. =)
Bex, “Charlie” sounds like a beauty! I love your precise description of “Charlie” as I can really picture this tree. Many mysteries to uncover with your neighbor tree – like the very noisy birds up in the canopy.
Great advice here. We all should look more closely at the things which we pass by in nature and do not always see or take notice of. There is so much beauty and wonder abound.
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Thanks so much for the kind comment, especially from someone who is such an expert observer of nature. I really appreciate it.
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You are welcome, and thank you for being so kind.