Yesterday I traded in my tired old camera for a new one. The new one is small and compact and maybe less technically robust than its predecessor, but its sensor hasn’t been worn out from a decade of use and I can strap it across my chest without feeling like my back might break.
I spent my morning nose-deep in the new manual, trying to make clumsy sense of the symbols and abbreviations, and the early afternoon nose-deep in the flowery stuff of this Brooklyn neighborhood, trying to do some small justice to the beauty on display in sidewalk cracks and climbing along chainlink fences and stuffed into plastic tubs at the grocery store.
“Like that new tree pit?” A neighbor called to me through the open window of the car he was parking and stretched across the passenger seat to wag his finger toward the sidewalk. “Hold on, lemme park.” His tires rubbed against the stone curb and he cut the engine with one wheel still hovering between street and sidewalk. “We just put it in,” he said as he rounded the car, tugging up his pants by the belt loops and extending his hand for a shake. The man is tall, like my dad, and probably the same age, with a voice that betrays a lifetime spent on this particular spit of concrete-covered land. The new pit is indeed impressive—a supersized version of a typical tree pit, noticeable for a fresh layer of soft mulch and for taking over four sidewalk squares where others of its ilk take up one or two—but I’m preoccupied by its custodian. His good nature, his love of street trees, his firm handshake, his headlong jump into storytelling, all familiar, but not from this place. We talk about roots needing space to grow, permitting, and dogs, and pavers that move.
He mentions that he’s a master pruner and I’m sure then that my memory hasn’t failed me. A dozen years ago, on a different Brooklyn block, a mile away, I was taking a cheap pair of pruners to a Coral Ardisia threatening to overtake the garden outside my building. He came walking down the street with a giant pair of loppers. I can’t say for certain if he lent a hand that day, or offered to, but I do remember a conversation about plants and pruning and doing what we can to take care of places. I ask for confirmation that he lived on that street, even though now I’m sure of it.
“Yes, that’s right,” he says. “Fifty-four years.” And then, he remembers me, too. “And you! You’re a pruner!” He squeezes my arm: “We’ve met before.”