Their Songs Never Cease

By Brett Essler
December 11, 2012

The devastating human suffering and economic costs of Hurricane Sandy will be felt for years. While the loss of a tree is not comparable to the loss of a life, home, or livelihood, the plants and trees that line our parks, yards, and streets are an important part of our city’s history and ecosystem.

The city’s trees are home to endangered migratory birds, shelter from the summer sun, and the backdrop for a cherished family photos. After the storm, trees are chipped and piled in parking lots or, ironically, in what were once green spaces. Floyd Bennett Field in the Rockaways will be home to an expected 200 cubic yards of tree debris.

The New York City Parks Department fielded 26,000 tree service requests in the wake of the storm and they estimate that the cost of removing downed trees and branches will be $15 million to $20 million. It will be some time before the full extent of tree loss is tallied, but to date the parks department has counted approximately 10,000 downed trees on city streets and thousands more in the parks.

They continue to clear the debris, but the piles of tree logs, branches, and debris have become part of a revised urban landscape, sometimes chillingly so.

On November 15, a park worker found a body hidden beside a pile of dead trees in a parking lot of Queens’ Forest Park. Police say the man had been murdered, his body dumped in the park.

At the New York Botanical Garden – a 250-acre oasis in the Bronx – Vice President for Horticulture Todd Forrest says that nearly 300 trees were uprooted or otherwise destroyed and more than 300 were damaged. Garden crews work sunrise to sunset removing dead trees – some more than 100 years old – and repair those that can be salvaged. Mature native trees may be made in into boats, others crude benches lining garden paths. Most will make their way to a massive chip pile where they continue to do their work, breaking down and creating wisps of methane gas. Throughout the usually silent park, the ambient hum of earthmovers, wood chippers, and chain saws provide a new soundtrack.

The photos in this essay are from parts of New York City that saw little human or property damage. Here, Sandy made her mark in other subtle, but equally long-lasting, ways.


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