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Excerpt from Endgame

Oak (p. 47)

From chapter "Catastrophe"

I thought of pavement and asphalt. Steel. Skyscrapers. I thought of a five-hundred-year-old oak I saw in New York City, on a slope overlooking the Hudson River. I thought of all that tree had experienced. As an acorn it fell in an ancient forest—except that back then there was no reason to call those forests ancient, or anything but home. It germinated in this diverse community, witnessed runs of fish up the Hudson so great they threatened to carry away the nets of those who would catch them, witnessed human communities living in these forests, the humans not depleting the forests, but rather enhancing them by their very presence, by what they gave back to their home. It witnessed the arrival of civilization, the building of a village, a town, a city, a metropolis, and from there, as Mumford put it, the “Parasitopolis turns into Patholopolis, the city of mental, moral, and bodily disorders, and finally terminates in Necropolis, the City of the Dead.”Along the way, the tree said good-bye to the wood bison, the passenger pigeon, the Eskimo curlew, the great American chestnuts, the wolverines who paced the shores of the Hudson. It said good-bye (at least for now) to humans living traditional ways. It said good-bye to the neighboring trees, to the forest where its life began. It witnessed the laying down of billions of tons of concrete, the erection of rigid steel structures and brick buildings topped with razor wire.

Unfortunately, it did not live long enough to witness all of this come back down. The tree, I learned last year, is no more. It was cut down by a landowner worried that its branches would fall on his roof. Environmentalists—doing what we seem to do best—gathered to say prayers over its stump.