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Friday, April 1, 2016


Friday, 8:30 AM.  33 degrees F at the ferry dock, 31 on the back porch.  Wind WNW, calm with moderate gusts.  The sky is partly cloudy with some overcast, the humidity 76%.  The barometer is rising somewhat but relatively steady, now at 29.74".  Snow and cold are predicted for the weekend, proving any harbingers of springlike weather to be false prophets.
  While walking Buddy this morning, I noticed a fir tree growing near a rock, which instantly made me remember an incident from the past, one that had not come to mind for many years.
   Longer  ago  now than I really care to admit, I had a job as the Vice President of Horticulture and Operations at The New York Botanical Garden in New York City's Borough of the Bronx.  A relatively young Midwesterner, I was brought into the organization to help solve problems in the middle of a dire (and historically recurrent) New York City financial crisis. 
   Those were the days when the Bronx was burning, being set on fire at one end by rioters, and at the other end by arsonists hired to assure insurance proceeds before the street violence arrived.  The acrid smoke of burning buildings was a constant irritant, and the wail of sirens omnipresent.  We could go to lunch at a neighborhood restaurant one day and come back the next and find it a heap of smoldering embers.
   One of my many duties was to oversee the garden crews, which were city employees, Italian, and Bronxites all.  They were a tough bunch, but they possessed many innate gardening skills, and we got along pretty well in the main, although I learned to supervise them closely so as not to be taken advantage of.   
   Eventually I learned to trust their esthetic judgement, if not everything else.  A turning point in that regard occurred one afternoon as a crew was planting a tree in the world-renowned Rock Garden.   I approached unnoticed as they worked, and observed the following:
   A large, very heavy balled and burlapped hemlock tree was being wrestled into place by hand, a dark green exclamation point to contrast with the gray granitic schist that is the bedrock of Da Bronx.  The men were sweating and straining and the air was blue with their curses.  Vinny, my foreman, was insistent regarding the  exact placement of the tree, and there were a number of attempts that did not meet with his approval. In a sheer finality of frustration, Vinny shouted to his crew;
  "No, no, no!  Da branch of da tree must caress da rock!" 
   Encouraged by his outburst, the heavy ball rolled into place and rested lovingly against the rock, a perfect metaphor for the contrast between the craziness of the streets outside the Botanical Garden and the calm and beauty within.

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