Nick Paumgarten’s short article in the January 31 New Yorker reports on a census of Central Park’s trees undertaken by Edward Barnard, a “retired book editor,” and Ken Chaya, a graphic designer. Together they inventoried and mapped more than 19,000 trees, several of which they consider Very Important Trees (VITs) now having completed the project. VITs stand apart from the forest; they amount to the distinctive and curious exceptions worthy of noticing, touring on foot (binoculars in hand), and pausing to dwell upon. About the map, Paumgarten writes,
In December, they published their map. It’s five feet tall. It has nineteen thousand six hundred and thirty trees on it, about eighty per cent of the Park’s estimated twenty-four thousand trees, all of them identifiable according to a leaf-shape key. It is a beautiful and meticulous artifact, as full of captivating detail as the M.T.A.’s new subway map is devoid of it.
Trees stand up especially well to this map-treatment, since they are uniquely rooted and living. I read this brief article with an interest in what generalizes from these methods, from this project. City-dwellers, particularly NYC-dwellers, might be more fascinated with trees than we who find them abundantly surrounding us in more open Midwestern spaces. Yet, this also means for Midwesterners that we risk resting without noticing them in their seeming ubiquity.
To generalize from Barnard and Chaya’s impressively geeky inventorying, then, what becomes possible out of this for a course like Writing Ypsilanti? Map the campus’s trees? Map a local park’s trees (e.g., Frog Island, Prospect, Normal, Candy Cane)? In tentatively posing this, I am thinking, maybe not. Nothing here. Then again, I think of Denis Wood’s public utility map and jack-o-lantern map, and something here blends inventively into other noticings: Attending to trees that grow and change almost invisibly, what else might we accidentally find? Possibly a related tree-inventorying experiment could function as a heuristic then for yet other object-oriented census maps, which, like Barnard and Chaya’s project, might change our manner of dwelling or our routes simply by resetting those fields of attention that have gone stagnant.