Lame Adventure 375: Sappy Encounter with a Sapling

The other night I was walking north on Columbus Avenue. A handsome young hustler dressed 127 times better than me — my rumpled tee shirt with a dried Liquid Nails stain on the sleeve magnified that factoid, approached. He declared:

Handsome Young Hustler: You look like a nice person.

Me (thinking): Don’t hit me for money, Sonny.

Me (saying): Looks are deceiving. If you want me to give you the time, it’s 8:02. If you want me to open my wallet, fat chance.

Handsome Young Hustler: But I just got out of the hospital!

Me: Keep that in mind the next time you go hipster hat shopping.

Earlier that same evening I had an infinitely more pleasant encounter with another sapling on West End Avenue. This one was not of the panhandling variety. It was a freshly planted Hackberry tree that I considered worthy of photographing.

A tree grows in Manhattan.

A tree grows in Manhattan.

I restrained myself from snapping any images of the French bulldog evacuating its supper at the tree’s base. Whenever I stop to photograph something, even something as seemingly mundane as this young tree, that’s when people walking along the sidewalk take notice, and punt pups are inspired to heed the call of nature. The dog’s owner did pick up after his relieved beast.

Tree pride!

A tree name so lovely it inspires fruit craving and loud throat clearing.

Right now, New York City is in the midst of a project called Million Trees NYC. As the tag declares, this tree is one in a million. Specifically, 220,000 street trees are being planted along with 780,000 others destined for parks and private partners. I think the latter refers to private homeowners who would like to adopt a tree. I would do that myself, but growing a tree in one’s apartment is not an option that this program condones because the people that run it are not mentally defective.

Tree care tips.

Tree care tips tag — can’t wait to see how that’s hanging in March.

The tree that previously stood where this sapling now stands was knocked down when Hurricane Sandy pummeled the Tri-state area last October. Looking at that tree gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling. I thought:

Me (thinking): Ah, how wonderful, new life!

I returned home compelled to research the Hackberry. My curiosity quickly entered freefall and I landed with a rude thud. Apparently the tree I found so charming is one that’s considered good for almost nothing. An article published on Reporter Herald implies that the Hackberry is about a half step above a Chia pet and its wood is of very low value:

“No one uses hackberry wood to make wine barrels, whiskey casks or fine hardwood furniture. Mostly, people cut down hackberries just to get rid of them. Occasionally, the wood is claimed for crates or pallets; sometimes it gets burned as firewood.”

Apparently, the Hackberry, which is planted all over this fine metropolis, is the tree equivalent to the ubiquitous pigeon — my choice for state bird, should anyone ask. I admit that my areas of expertise, tile labeling and sleeping, often done simultaneously, are a bit of distance from having a clue about botany. In fact, I can barely tell the difference between a redwood and a Douglas Fir even if both uprooted and fell on me simultaneously. I do know that were that to occur, it would hurt significantly.

This sap still likes that sapling very much. If Barbara Walters, who this week gave her year-long notice that she is retiring from network TV in 2014, so she’ll surely be conducting a final few fat fish interviews, decided to ditch her credibility and engage in this exchange with a smelt:

Barbara Walters: If you were a tree, what would you be?

I would proudly declare:

Me: What else but a Hackberry!

We even resemble each other a bit around the leaves.

We even resemble each other a bit around the rumpled leaves.


83 responses to “Lame Adventure 375: Sappy Encounter with a Sapling

  1. Snoring Dog Studio

    Yes, the lowly hackberry. Doesn’t even have a glamorous name, like Red Maple. However, because it can’t be made into anything worthwhile, it will stand a chance of surviving there. And, remember, that gorgeous little twig of a thing is standing there, quietly, removing the carbon dioxide from the air that we humans spewed out of our cars and leaf blowers. It never asks for anything in return but a little bit of water and sunshine. Yay for NYC and their million trees effort! Give your little friend a smile each time you walk by.


  2. Hey, it could be worse. When I grew up in Brooklyn, ginkos and their smelly fruits were all the rage. Of note here though, given the Sandyferous reason for the plantings, how well is the Hackberry known for standing up to high winds? While I don’t know the proper name for them, I *do* know that Philly’s empty lots (and my backyard) are filled with what landscapers refer to as “weed trees” that evidently have very shallow root systems and tend to grow to about 30 feet high and then get blown over in the breeze.

    – MJM


    • Hopefully, some city agency drone did his or her homework, so they know that this little tree will grow into an all-weather survivor Michael. If they didn’t, what a drag that no one had the foresight to ask your opinion. Weed trees are probably the ones that set off my colleagues allergies.


  3. Quintessential lame–making sometin outta nuttin.

    The Hackberry, the Marv Throneberry of trees. Where better than the UWS?


  4. It’s inspiring that this tree was chosen then 😉 maybe to show that ‘everyone can make it in NYC!’


  5. That Hackberry provides shade and oxygen, and you, my friend provide wit, intelligence and culture. Valuable traits, indeed!


  6. If Babs Walters was a tree, she’d be chopped down and used for kindling.


  7. The Hackberry tree was named in honor of hack writers. It’s a far cry from the Satire Shrub or the Humor-nut Tree, both of which are far superior in quality but much harder to find. I do know of one in NYC 🙂


  8. Hackberry, sounds like Huckleberry to me, which reminds me of the worse piece of literature ever written by Mr. Twain, I’m a fan of his, but that book was not good at all. We could deduct that he got inspired by a “vanilla” tree to write his book, I can see the relation.
    Did you ever watch the cartoon bases on Twain’s bad novel?


  9. Pallets and wine casks are over-rated. Who wants to be a tree and feel the wind on your leaves?!
    Great post.


  10. Hello, I just discovered your blog. Happy Belated Birthday! I loved your post you wrote on your b-day. Funny and inspirational! Thanks so much, I’ll look up your book, I am hooked!


    • Thank you for visiting Lame Adventure-land, Christina. I’d further shill my book to you, but I’m not that crass. I had a very happy birthday indeed, aside from a phlegm-filled cough, thanks to recovering from a cold that turned me into the Germinator for a while. My friends and colleagues were all cool about it. Everyone just ran for cover.


  11. Out of curiosity I looked Hackberry up in my all purpose garden book and it said it “has the virtue of deep rooting: old trees in narrow planting strips expand in trunk diameter to nearly fill strips without producing surface roots or heaving sidewalk..” It goes on, but it appears to be a reasonable choice to fill a tree lost to Sandy, though I rather like rgayer55’s satire shrub idea.


  12. I’m always a hack


  13. I think it’s kinda cool that they are planting so many trees in NYC…even if they are the carrot top of trees.


  14. No sneakers on the trees?


  15. You have just elevated the lowly, shy Hackberrry to a new level of celebrity! Long may it cast shade!
    Guess what was delivered to my mailbox yesterday?!? No, it wasn’t a Hackberry … guess again …


  16. Apparently, you visited the Lumber Board’s site. All that talk of usefulness for making stuff–p’shaw. I read that it holds up well in urban conditions. Which is more than I can say for myself.


  17. I really liked this story. It surprised me that the tree was one step above a Chia Pet. It looked like it was ready to conquer nature. Hackberry seemed so badasss. Yeah … I can see Hackberry in you … badass of the nature world. 🙂


  18. The Cha Cha Cha Chia of trees is quite the analogy … but here’s the biggest text: it is worthy of bag decorating?


  19. One would hope the roots grow down rather than spreading outward on that sort of tree or street and sidewalk repairs may be needed a few years down the road.


  20. I look forward to your post on the first bag that winds up in that tree.


  21. I saw this bumper sticker at a shop here in town—
    Suburbia: Where they cut down trees and name streets after them.


    • That’s calling it like it is! Here in NYC, we have streets with names like Lispenard,named after a Huguenot, ad a bit more snore inducing than names like Maple, Cedar or Oak.


  22. A tree is a tree, and I’m trying to think if there is a tree I don’t like. It is true that Phil has just cut down a rhodedendron from outside the fence in the forest, but they have their stunning moments. The elder is frowned on here, but it is tough as nails and brings greeness to the humblest yard, and berries which can make wine. Ah, nature’s a grand thing wherever it goes.


  23. Viva la Hackberry!


  24. Coincidentally, there’s a famous bronze statue of a bear and a tree in a famous square of Madrid which is something of a national symbol for Spain. Apparently there used to be many bears around Madrid and the tree, which was once thought to be a strawberry tree, was discovered to have actually been a Hackberry tree which was once in abundance around Madrid. And clearly made for a much better statue than a Flamenco Chia Pet.


  25. I’ve noticed a few of these “one in a million” trees in my neighborhood too. I wanted to look into it a bit more and found that the Divine Miss M was one of the founders of the program. Way cool!


  26. Talk about the Baader-Meinhof effect! If I’d read this post immediately after it was published, it would have been the first time I’d been aware of hearing about Hackberry Trees. However, I saw the plant mentioned in a book sometime within the last 48 hours, and now this post is the THIRD time I’ve heard hackberries mentioned. Obviously, it’s a lot more common than I realized, and just haven’t been paying attention. Baader-Meinhof–the krauts have a term for everything.

    I think the tree-planting idea is a lovely one. I’m no granola, but I enjoy trees. I’ve only been to New York a couple of times, and my mental picture of Manhattan is pretty treeless (except for Central Park, of course–packs of wilding teens need SOME shadows to lurk in, after all). It’s nice to see that my picture is wrong (although I’m awfully fond of my prejudices, so I’ll continue to think of Manhattan as a soulless concrete jungle–watch out for alligators!).

    Brooklyn was a lot greener than I’d expected, my previous impressions of the city based on the opening credits to Welcome Back Kotter.

    Also, I like that you include street names in your stories. I’m a map dork, and I travel vicariously, so it’s fun to see where things happen.


    • Possibly the Hackberry is the official tree of the blogosphere, Smak, even though I’m sure most bloggers consider themselves to be more like mighty oaks than a modest sapling that bears useless fruit.

      To me, Manhattan isn’t soul-less at all, but it is heavily populated. Even in densely crowded conditions, there are isolated moments of connection. Tonight on the crowded uptown express train ride home, I was standing in front of a striking 20-something woman with tattoos running down her toned right arm (it was humid so she was wearing a sleeveless shirt). A guy, also 20-something, got on at 34th Street. They instantly noticed each other. The doors shut. The train headed toward 42nd Street Times Square. The guy asked the tatted chick, “Did you get those all at once or over time?” She said, “Over time.” She smiled. He didn’t. He looked like he was trying to figure out what to say next. The guy sitting next to the woman got up. The seat was near me so I took it. The thought occurred that I should have let the guy sit next to the tatted chick because I sensed chemistry between them. Then I reflected, “I’m not a matchmaker. It’s their job to serve and volley.” He got off at the next stop, 42nd Street, so that was the end of the affair. But it was fun while it lasted.

      I love where you’ve acquired your knowledge about Brooklyn.


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