When I Was Planning To Visit The Park, I Pictured A Tiny Undisturbed Corner On The Heavily Populated Island, One Small Area That Had Stayed Forested Through All The Paving And Construction That Went On Around It. When I Arrived, I Inquired About The Old Growth. “Oh Yes,” The Park Naturalist Told Me, “Almost The Entire Park Is Old Growth.”
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I Started Up The Trail Wondering When The Asphalt Would Stop. It Didn’T. Occasionally, I Would Come Across A Fire Hydrant Or Storm Water Drain. There Were Even Old Streetlamps In Some Sections. The Undergrowth Was Crowded With Invasive, Introduced Plants, Such As Daylilies And Andromeda. Many Of The Trees Were Impressive In Size, But Then I Spotted A Ginkgo Tree As Massive As Any Of The So-Called Old Growth.
Now, Ginkgos Are Lovely, With Their Fan-Shaped Leaves, But They Are About As Far From A Native Species As You Can Get. In Fact, Scientists Are Not Even Sure Any Native Ginkgos Remain On The Planet. The Ginkgo Evolved 200 Million Years Ago, Long Before Any Of The Other Tree Species In This New York Forest Appeared On The Planet. A Westerner First Saw A Gingko Tree In 1691, Growing In The Garden Of A Buddhist Monastery In Nagasaki, Japan. Apparently, The Monks Had Brought It To Japan From A Monastery In China. It Is Said The Monks Prayed To The Trees, And One Monk Known For His Wisdom
How Strange That A Tree Species So Tough It Survived A Number Of Mass Extinction Episodes, Has Lived Millions Of Years Longer Than Any Of Its Close Biological Relatives, And Was The Tree Most Likely To Withstand The Nuclear Attack On Nagasaki, Is Now So Dependent On Humans. For Three Hundred Years, It Was Thought To Survive Only In Gardens.
Recently, A Few Small Ginkgo Groves Were Found In The Chinese Wilderness. Dna Testing Revealed That These Trees Were All Very Similar Genetically. They May Have Been Planted Long Ago In A Garden, And Then
Eventually The Forest Grew Up Around Them. The Same Thing Had Obviously Happened Here In New York; This Huge Gingko Tree Must Have Been Planted.
There Was Something Else Different About This Place, Although It Took Me A Little While To Identify It: Not Only Didn’T It Look Like An Old-Growth Forest, It Didn’T Sound Like One, Either. I Heard No Beautiful Songs From Forest Birds Such As Thrush Or Warblers; I Didn’T Even Hear Cicadas Buzzing. Missing From This Tract Was “The Divine Music Of The Natural World,” As Nature-Sound Recorder Bernie Krause So Beautifully Put It. When I Stopped To Listen, I Heard The Roar Of Jets Taking Off From Newark Airport Every Five Minutes, And Sirens And Train Whistles In The Background.
I Was Puzzling Over My Small Black And White Map When An Official- Looking Trio Of Men Stopped Nearby To Consult Their Large Color Map. I Sensed That Their Mission Was Similar To Mine. “You Guys Have A Good Map,” I Hinted, Hoping To Get A Peek At It. But They Had No Time To Help A “Tourist,” And We Headed Off On Separate Trails. Months Later I Would Read About This Encounter From Their Perspective In The New Yorker. They, Too, Were In This Remote Corner Of Manhattan Trying To Understand What The Island Had Been, And To See If Any Hints Of That History Remained.
The Next Day, I Returned To The Ecology Center To Inquire Again About The Old Growth. Perhaps I Had Missed It. While Waiting For The Naturalist, I Studied The Displays. A Reproduction Of A Painting Of The Revolutionary War Battle At Fort Washington Hung On The Wall. I Recognized The Landscape As The One I Had Walked Through The Day Before, But The Painting Showed The Land Completely Cleared Of Trees. Here Was Proof: The Forest At Inwood Hill Park Was Not Original Forest. It Had Been Logged, Like Most Of Our Forests, But So Long Ago That The Replacement Forest Was Now Hundreds Of Years Old, Ancient Enough To Contain Very Large Trees. Some People Would Call It A Secondary Old-Growth Forest, But I Resisted Applying That Moniker To This Grove With Its Introduced Species, Human Construction, And Missing Ecological Links.
When The Naturalist Came Out, He Assured Me That The Trails I Had Taken Went Through The Old-Growth Forest. “But Look At This Painting,” I Said, “It Shows The Whole Area Clear-Cut.” “Well,” He Replied, “It’S As Close As You Can Get To Old Growth Around Here.”
I’M Glad The People Of Manhattan Have A Green Oasis To Visit, But I Wouldn’T Want Them To Think They Were Experiencing What It Feels Like And Sounds Like To Be In A Real Old-Growth Forest. You Might Be Wondering Why I Didn’T Visit The Adirondacks Or The Catskills, Which Contain Millions Of Acres Of Forest That New York State Declared “Shall Be Forever Kept As Wild Forest Lands…. Nor Shall The Timber Thereon Be Sold, Removed, Or Destroyed.” The Estimates Of Old Growth Remaining There Range From 150,000 To 500,000 Acres Plenty To Choose From. All The Animals Gone From Manhattan Still Live In The Vast Forests Of Western New York, Where I Might Find Solitude And Nature’S Music.
Instead I Chose To Visit Inwood Hill Park In Manhattan, Perhaps From The Hope That, Even In The Places Densest With Humans, We Would Leave Space For The Forest And Habitat For Other Species. It Would Have Made Such A Nice Story.
The Rangers In The Park Haven’T Given Up Hope. They Pointed Out A Pair Of Red-Tailed Hawks Nesting In One Of The Tall Trees. The Hawks Have Been Nesting There For A Decade. Every Year They Return To The Park To Mate, Lay Eggs, And Successfully Rear Young.
The Adirondacks Must Have Thousands Of Nesting Hawks, But I Bet None Are More Watched, Or More Loved, Than This Pair.
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