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My Turn: Growing appreciation for trees on Arbor Day

Evergreens growing skyward in Irene McCoy's backyard in

Evergreens growing skyward in Irene McCoy's backyard in Rockville Centre. Credit: Jack McCoy

Years ago, as a young girl growing up on the southeastern edge of Chicago’s city limits, I lived in a neighborhood where there few trees of any substance. Which was just as well since my dad was not very amiable during leaf-raking time. What we did see was a lot of fog rolling in off Lake Michigan and smoke rising from the oil refineries and steel mills that surrounded our town.

In my 80s now and a regular on the Long Island scene for nearly 50 years, I’m enjoying the aesthetic pleasures awarded by the trees surrounding our house in Rockville Centre, including four evergreens in the backyard and a healthy dogwood that’s stretching skyward in the front.

But that’s not all.

We’re surrounded by maples, oaks, birches and other trees whose names escape me. We were told there had once been a tree on our property in the front yard; it was cut down long before we moved to our home in 1980. Only its roots remain beneath a small flower bed, making it difficult to plant flowering ground cover. But from what I can see, my neighbors have been staunch advocates of maintaining a green environment, which pleases me no end, especially with Arbor Day approaching on April 30, a date in early spring dedicated to tree-planting in the United States.

A friend across the street had a huge tree that looked like an oak. We were told it was rotting on its insides, so it was axed years ago. Other homes along our street also had big trees that were eventually replaced with smaller florals: magnolia, Japanese cherry, wisteria, crabapple.

Across Sunrise Highway in neighborhoods to the north of us, huge oaks, maples and the peculiar American sweet gum tree, with its wooden, spiked balls, abound. And if we drive toward Montauk through Suffolk County, we’ll pass forests of trees, not easily identified by this untrained botanical eye, and almost hidden by lengthy stretches of roadway lined by the pine barrens. Farther east, edging the highway, are paths covered with needles that provide a spongy surface for hikers to plod along.

While many folks long for the smell of evergreens and reminders of Christmas and other midwinter holidays, I look forward to springtime and the delights offered by newly formed buds on trees in our neighborhood, among them the lovely flowering pear and horse chestnut.

Since we’re stuck on a postage stamp-sized piece of property, I have to content myself with the evergreens in the backyard, the ones that were about 5 feet tall when we first moved in, a time when I could still see over them into our neighbor’s backyard. The arborvitae bushes a nearby acquaintance planted some years ago are also approaching rooftop level.

Fall will bring lovely copper, red and gold changes in the oak, maple and birch and, of course, plenty of ready-to-drop leaves. On our little plot of ground, the backyard evergreens shed only a few needles, and the foliage in the front we see is supplied mostly by our neighbors’ trees. But that’s fine.

If Dad were still here, I’m sure he would be muttering as usual during leaf-raking time, but I’m tending to my small share of greenery and look forward to enjoying the simple pleasures they offer.

Irene McCoy,

Rockville Centre

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