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The Tree Museum & Old NYU

September 28, 2009

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If you’re looking for the Tree Museum, this is pretty much what you’ll see as you wander up The Grand Concourse.  You can visit it here: http://treemuseum.org/.

I’m going to come right out and say that this is pretty much of a bust.  I’m all in favor of any positive effort, but I think this one comes up short on a number of counts.  Let me start with the pros before I move onto the cons, and one major caveat:

Caveat: I did not visit every tree.  In fact, I probably only visited about 10 or so out of 100.  I did look for 20 of them, though, and they are a little hard to find, if that counts.

Pros: It’s pretty hard to be critical of trees.  We need them, they’re beautiful, and raising awareness about them is important.  As well, getting people excited about other layers of stories related to the tree itself, its species, the surrounding community and geography are all worthy goals.

Cons: It just didn’t play out that way.  In fact, it was almost a scathing criticism of the use of any kind of advanced technology in this kind of endeavor.

The markers are pretty hard to make out.  Once found, you dial a number on your cell phone (and written on the marker), and punch in the appropriate code (e.g., tree #61= 61#).  Both the introductory and tree-specific recordings’ quality is very poor, and it is hard to hear over the roar of the The Grand Concourse.

A good number of the stories have nothing to do with the tree or the neighborhood, but deal more generally with ecological concerns.  This in itself isn’t bad, but they take a while to get to the point, and it is hard to maintain patience without a sound byte.  Worse, there was one about the appropriateness of haiku’s for such a situation, but it was a lecture on the subject, as opposed to a haiku.

I’m also going to go out on a limb and say the trees are a little pitiful. You’ve got to start somewhere, and I do sincerely hope that they become mighty, but they’re not there yet, and they all kind of look the same.  I mean, they could be mimosas or ginkgos if I didn’t know my leaves a little better.

Chris also pointed out that the use of the word “museum” is loaded.  Why couldn’t it just be called a Tree Walk?  Calling it a museum lends it an air of privilege that it might have better avoided.

We also interviewed a number of local people along the way, and no one had even bothered to make the call.  There is no Spanish version, for whatever it is worth.  We had heard that one group had already had a bag of human feces thrown at them, so we were a little wary, but everyone was very friendly.  If anything, I’d say the Tree Museum’s greatest value was getting us out of the Village and up into the Bronx.  After Ong and Forster, I was craving some direct experience.

We got hungry really quickly, and wandered into La Penda for some Dominican lunch:
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The woman who prepared our meal was not particularly excited about having her picture taken, but she was a good sport.  She has not explored the Tree Museum, and she does not have an email address.

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I had the Carne Guisada and a tamale:

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Yum.  We all had a beer:

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We paid our bill, and marched off again in search of more trees, just so our data points wouldn’t be too skewed.  But honestly, I found listening to Chris discourse on the young history of the nation state, the trans-border feudal web of Europe, and the national organizing power of language a little more interesting:

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We finally gave up and made our way west to the old New York University campus.  On the way, we crossed over the Croton Aqueduct:

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We also found a yard sale with piles of electronic goodies, including external hard drives for ONLY 50 cents a gig.  I noted that you can get 250G hard drives at the NYU bookstore for $99, but was told that “people always buy too much.  You should just get what you need.”

I will tell you that Chris learned to play dominoes here.  A dominoes table will be a worthy addition to the floor.

We made it to the old NYU campus.  I’ve made a number of pilgrimages there to visit it.  It’s quite a Beaux Arts gem looking out over the Harlem River.  Designed by Stanford White, it was intended to rival Columbia in what was once a rural setting.  There are letters at Avery Library from White to Charles McKim, Columbia’s architect, bragging of the marble White had found for the columns inside the NYU Library.

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It was a special day, though: I’ve never seen this building open.  I’ve begged security guards to let me in, and only once saw it filled with wooden scaffolding that looked less like it was being restored, more like its decay was being resisted.

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I’m going to give the Tree Museum a

IMG_8465but the day was a total success.



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One Comment
  1. Great report and sounds like a fun day! You saved me a visit, though I suppose I ought to check it out anyway–

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