Tag Archives: survivor tree

September 11th Survivor Tree

A memorial pool at the site of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. Water flows over the lip, down to the void. Names of the dead ring the pool, marking the footprint of the towers.

911 memorial“Freedom Tower,” the tallest skyscraper in the Americas, lances the clouds next to the pools.

freedom towerI visited in winter, on a sleet-slammed, windy day. In addition to paying my respects at the site of the attacks, I wanted to see and touch a special tree. People clearing the remains of the fallen towers found a Bradford pear under the dust and concrete. The tree had stood in a planter next to the towers. Most of the pear’s branches were shattered by the attacks, reducing the thirty-year-old tree to a stub.

Now, after years of care in the City’s Arthur Ross Nursery in the Bronx, the “survivor tree” is back at the site. Unlike the rod-spined white oaks that line the wide walkways at the memorial, the pear’s body is scarred and fragile. The tree stands within its own hooped railing, its placement and form jarring with the metronomic plantings of oaks (trees that form a living, green roof for the museum and train station below). Straps loop the pear’s branches and trunk, stabilizing wood that, although it is partly healed, has fractures — tree memories — that will forever remain within.

survivor pearsurvivor pear 2Despite these wounds, the tree’s body speaks of vitality. Twigs are bud-fat and arched skyward. Rows of sapsucker holes spoke of the time that the tree spent regaining its strength in the leafier and more woodpecker-friendly nursery.

survivor pear 3A human interpreter and guide stood with the tree and translated its story from wood-words to human language, explaining to new visitors why the tree stood where it did.

Some visitors slowed, listened, and rested their hands on the pear’s skin, leaning into the sturdy life.

Others raced around, laughing, snapping smiling selfies in the sleet: Me with the Tree, Me with the etched names of the dead, Me with a big tower. Survivor Tree commemorative trays, umbrellas, mugs, and ornaments are for sale in the Museum Shop.

Sadness upon sadness, “As if there was no death.”