Forty feet in the air, I perched hesitatingly on the uninviting, creaky metal slats of my friend Kate's rusty fire escape in Flatbush, Brooklyn. It was a deceptively cool summer morning in 2020 and one perfect for a coffee alfresco. I’d wedged myself “gracefully” through the apartment’s window moments before, managing not to send any notebooks or pens plunging below as I maneuvered myself, akimbo. At the window sill, Kate's dog, Djola, (and my charge for the weekend), had surveyed my acrobatics with concern until I found myself a seat. Savoring slow, quiet mornings like this one had become my standard: a coffee, a crossword, a few pages of a book. The cozy, quotidian sounds of muffled city traffic as background music, I settled down with that day’s offerings, content, and realized: I had always wanted to be here. Not so much here, literally, but here in the larger sense, in New York City—as my home.
The seed (pun intended) that planted my love for the Big Apple was sowed by Betty Smith in her classic 1945 novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. On my mom’s urging (her mom had loved it as well), I first read the book in middle school at about the age we meet its protagonist, Francie Nolan. Francie was a balance between dreamy and observant, earnest, reflective, bookish; I identified with her and romanticized the New York City world she inhabited. I loved Smith’s rich descriptions of Francie’s life in Williamsburg in the early 20th century, particularly of the many characters Francie encountered as she walked her block or gazed out from the perch of her fire escape. Of all the neighborhood’s residents, the book opens with a description of its most famous one:
On the fire escape in 2020, I could easily have been looking out at the same scene. A tree effortlessly towered over the 6-story apartment buildings that crowded it. Its canopy lent dramatic shadows that covered the dusty and cement yards below; I followed the outstretched branches with my eyes, tips to the trunk, to really make sure they all came from the same tree (they did).
What tree was this?
Welcome to Planted!
Hello, Katherine here! An ecologist and anthropologist by training, I am here to talk about plants: broadly, how they shape human spaces and persist within them, and, more personally, how they are helping me feel at home (one might say, rooted) as I adapt to life in NYC.