• Verneda Adele White

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Embracing Our Resilience

Photo by Nirmal Rajendharkumar on Unsplash

While a direct bite on the 77-year-old classic novel, the phrase “a tree grows in Brooklyn” is the first thing that came to mind. A phrase perfectly coined for this moment, feeling SO pertinent and to the point in characterizing the resilience that emerged from the last 24 hours...

Tears welled up in my eyes. My heart and brain began to fully comprehend that in an instant, the abundant, joyful, luscious gift from mother nature had been taken from our experience. Throughout quarantine, I have described more than once, how the timing of my move last summer could not have been more divinely ordered. By transitioning from the third floor to the second floor of my brownstone, I felt the universe literally co-creating with me for what had been a vision 13 years in the making. Manifesting outdoor space in Brooklyn, just months before the coronavirus changed the world, has given me the ability to step outside, be with nature, catch a breeze on a warm summer evening, and take a deep breath without having to leave the comfort of my home.

My outdoor space has been my oasis. It has been life-changing…a change I fallaciously believed would have some permanence.

I met my landlord in the backyard, no less than two weeks ago to discuss some necessary tree trimming. The huge mulberry tree at the back of the property had overgrown, intruding on the yard of our neighbors to the right, and a second broad-leaf tree framing my back deck had grown to majestic but concerning heights. For the big mulberry, I was assured my budding vegetable garden under the tree (a post on incorporating gardening into your life to come), would be kept safe during the trimming process. We discussed the tree by the deck being shortened. I imagined by our pointings and conversation, that a little more than half of the voluminous foliage would be cut, and I reflected on there being plenty remaining for the awesome shade, privacy and sense of solitude the tree provides me.

When the day came for the tree trimming, I was met with astonishment as my landlord made an about-face, ordering the worker to chop down the broad-leaf tree top entirely. As I caught sight of what was happening and flew out onto the back deck, I was more hurt to learn that the rationale for harming a perfectly healthy, life-giving tree was having trimmed the tree 7 or 8 years ago, my landlord decided he never wanted to have to trim it again…seriously? I attempted to demand unattainable justice in my protest of the cruel and unnecessary act that had just taken place. A friend of mine called it "arbor-cide".

For anyone who lives in a large city or similar “concrete jungle” our ability to connect with nature is often greatly reduced by the limitation of space, the design of urban development, and humankind’s general history of ravishing our natural resources far above and beyond what we actually need to survive, and even thrive. It is especially easy when living in a city to fall into the habit of unconsciously taking our planet, our connection to our environment, and the trees that line our streets for granted. It is an unconsciousness I have been guilty of myself, until my pre-pandemic travels and witnessing first-hand the trees lost in the Australian bushfires, gave me the opportunity to [re]connect with nature in a deeply profound way. I was reminded while there will be times in life where we feel cut down, we do not stay down, further sparking my interest in understanding what we can learn from the trees in our cities and our lives.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, “Urban trees can help to mitigate some of the negative impacts and social consequences of urbanization, and thus make cities more resilient to these changes.” All the more encouraging, “well-planned and well-managed green infrastructures” become more resilient, sustainable, and equitable in areas such as nutrition and food security, poverty alleviation, and livelihood improvement.

Photo by Oluremi Adebayo from Pexels

With a number of resources and research available (see appendix), I identified my top 6 benefits of trees growing and thriving in our cities, to share. OUR TREES:

1. Add beauty and improve physical and mental health – trees deeply impact our moods in a positive way, create space for tranquil practices such as yoga, and provide a sense of wellness and peace of mind

2. Create wildlife and plant biodiversity – take a moment in your neighborhood or city to observe how many varieties of birds, flowers, and fruit the trees around you provide

3. Conserve water and reduce soil erosion – tree roots hold soil in place and increase water infiltration

4. Increase economic stability – from quality housing to supporting entrepreneurship, trees positively impact the way we do business

5. Save energy – the shade from trees help to cool and insulate our homes and buildings, reducing our use of air conditioners and heaters

6. Reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change – a must for the future health of our planet and our ability to take a breath of fresh air

Reflecting on these, and the many restorative benefits trees provide, brought me back to the second Breathe by OMNoire Virtual Wellness 2.0. It focused on ways to take care of ourselves and bounce back from this extended period of isolation. A part of the retreat took a deep dive into how important it is for each of us to connect with nature, and dedicated time to creating “Zen at Home” with designer and plant savant, Chanae Richards. If you do not readily have access to trees or an outdoor space, there are a wide range of similar benefits from filling our homes with houseplants and potted trees, understanding which type of houseplants will thrive best in your home environment, and improving our mental health from room to room.

We are supported in so many ways by the plants and trees we cultivate in our lives, with the benefits outweighing two to three times more than the investment made to care for them. We are meant to love, honor, and respect our environment as reminded by our planet beginning to heal itself while we sheltered in place. Each of us can save a tree, plant a tree, love a tree…but most importantly think twice before taking down a tree without purpose.

*At the time of publishing: New branches beginning to sprout from our “Tree of Resilience”. Photo by Verneda Adele White

In the moment, my tree cutting experience felt like one injury too many in what has been a journey to maintain a state of peace, tranquility, and gratitude in the midst of multiple pandemics and the grief associated with multiple losses. Yet, the experience moved through the emotional resilience of processing shocking disappointment and embraced my personal compassion and newfound regard not only for nature but for our collective healing.

As the last branches fell into the yard, I paid ceremonious homage to the remaining living trunk and surviving leaves, taking inspiration in renaming it my “Tree of Resilience”. I channeled my energy into believing our tree will grow once again tall and abundant*, with its skinny trunk and big broad leaves as a testament to the resilience this tree has endured over generations, the service it will continue to give us, and the many more stories it has to tell.


APPENDIX: Resources

Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations - “Building greener cities: nine benefits of urban trees“

South Carolina Forestry Commission - “Benefits of Urban Trees”

Oloro Interiors - “The Best Design of Your Life Starts At Home”

Arbor Day Foundation - “Trees: Enter a common name or your zip code and we'll help you choose a tree that’s best for planting where you live

Trees are Good - “How to Plant a Tree”

Backyardables, “Do Trees Grow Back After Being Cut Down?”

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