In Praise of Street Trees

Extreme heat brings out a new side to the city. In the heat, you are alive to the dynamics of inside and outside, movement and rest, invisible or irrelevant most of the time. Walks become longer. Clothes become shorter, their lifespans also abbreviated.

For some, the city seals up. Our bodies acclimatize to cool interiors, windows seal, shades are drawn. Cars are air bubbles traveling through space.

Mostly we squint at the outside world, peering through venetian blinds at the harsh glare.

But to step out into the hot city and run or walk or ride through the air seems alien. Why would you go out there? Like stepping foot on Mars.

And it is. Walking the hot summer city can be arduous. The variables are relatively simple: most movement produces sweat; a breeze evaporates your skin and cools your body; and most of all, a small patch of shade can make all the difference in the world. Walking the hot city is seeking the right mix, the perfect spot out of the sun and in the right wind.

And that's where trees come in. A well treelined street is a balm on a hot summer day. A treeless street is brutal.

Riding a bicycle along the roadway, I find myself stopping in the small patches of shade. I wait for the light to change while clinging to the tree shadow like a life preserver.

When else do you notice the precise line where shade begins?  In the heat, trees are alive in a new way. You feel them soaking up the sun, the shadow on your skin. They are tall green parasols that we all can share.

Let us all praise famous trees.


Mike Hicks said...

I really noticed the value of street trees when I was working at my last job. Sometimes I would take the bus partway, but I had to walk from the corner of Como & Raymond/Cleveland to the McAfee/Fairview complex at Energy Park Drive & MN-280. I stayed nice and cool along Raymond, but as soon as I turned the corner onto Energy Park, I'd start sweating.

Alex said...

Catalpas! Their dense shade is worth the work of cleaning up the bean pods, sez I.