Inventorying Trees

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.

Writing Ypsilanti

RePresentations of Ypsilanti are fraught (does it matter whether these are “representations” or “presentations”? I don’t think so). By “fraught,” I mean they are piled high, brimming even, with hints of foreboding about crime and poverty endemic to the city and the nearby township, both of which bear the name Ypsilanti. That this is so turns out not to be an insight worth bothering to share with anyone who has lived on the east side of Washtenaw County for more than a few months.

Nevertheless, I am thinking about this locale because I am developing a course for now conceived as a rhetorico-geographic study of EMU’s surrounds. Yes, of course, it will be writing focused, as it will attend to questions of routes, distances, and enframings with a particular investment in producing variations: re-composing the local. I aim to have the proposal submitted by the end of the semester. Right now I am gathering ideas, storing them in such a way that they will, in time, assume the shape of a provisional syllabus and schedule.

And this means I am taking stock of local coverage of local events, conditions, or problems, as the case may be. For example, a series of articles have appeared in about Ypsilanti Mobile Village, an abandoned mobile home park on Michigan Ave. just east of the intersection with Prospect. In late December came news that the owner filed bankruptcy. By early January, there was a story about the owner expressing his intentions to clean up the site, and on Friday, word that a judge ordered the cleanup to proceed. I don’t want to suggest that this series of stories is particularly representative of’s coverage of Ypsilanti, and certainly there is much water under the bridge, so to speak, about how depicts Ypsilanti, how the “paper” writes Ypsilanti, that is. The series on Ypsilanti Mobile Village is simply an example–perhaps an example I am all the more interested in because I have driven by the park a couple of times, because it is as close to campus (to the west) as it is to where I live (to the north). To give you some sense of the mobile home park’s condition, an employee provided this video footage to with the first report:

That the initial complaint is reprinted in full in each of the follow-up stories strikes me as introducing a curious but distinctive echo: “Raw sewage continues to leak from several residences.” “Raw sewage continues to leak from several residences.” “Raw sewage continues to leak from several residences.” Reading it over yet again, the image becomes more deeply seated. It cements an impression that these grim conditions are permanent, that they are woven into the landscape in such a way that no bureaucratic or legalistic action will change any time soon.

Oh, Dometer

Last weekend we control-cruised nearly 1,700 miles between Thursday morning and late Sunday night, sojourning into the deep Heartlands to see Ph.’s season-opening soccer match. And these photos provide some version of things, a lazily composed string of photos.

Alma Mater

Park’s Mackay Hall.

Powell Gardens

Friday morning we stopped by Powell Gardens next to UMKC. D. reminisced about often spending her most head-clearing lunch hours here during her administrative stint in auxiliary services.

Powell Gardens

More Powell Gardens.

UMKC's New Student Center

By accident we stumbled into the grand opening of UMKC’s new student center–an incredible facility whose third-floor veranda looks onto the Plaza and Nelson-Atkins. D.’s former colleagues showed us around: 300-seat movie theater, conference ballroom, 30+ impressive work stations for student organizations, restaurants, etc.

Lies, Lies, Lies

Friday late afternoon Is. fell asleep in the car. To extend her nap, we re-routed and stopped by US Toy where D. loaded up on classroom stuff. After Is. woke up, she and I entered the store, passing time in the puppets aisle and with her trying on Halloween costumes, one of which we eventually settled on.

Zarda BBQball

This is a basketball court in Blue Springs directly behind the Zarda BBQ on MO 7 Highway. Why relevant? I played here a lot in the summer of 1993. Nice to see kids shooting around, as if some from those days never left.

Blue Springs

Railroad Park. Nice enough, although I was thinking on our stroll that perhaps it should be renamed Goose Shit Park.

Julian Field

At the men’s soccer match between Park and U. of Sioux Falls. USF netted a pair of corner-sent headers in the first half. Park answered with a goal early in the second half before eventually losing, 3-1. Great to catch a match and see many friends and former colleagues, even if the result was a loss and the post-game mood was somewhat somber.

Soccer Media Guide

The 2010 Park University Men’s Soccer media guide is available, and it’s worth a look–impressively produced. I say this not only because Ph. is in there (p. 11), but also because I used to do the work of creating materials like this (and in many ways not quite like this, not this good anyway) at PU. Without going into too much reminiscence about how shoestrung and cobbled together pieces like this once were, let me just say it has come a long way, indeed.

The guide answers every important question about the Pirates this year, except this one: Is August 12 too soon to book a trip to Orange Beach, Ala., for the NAIA National Tournament in late November?


We took the Empire Service to New York City last week, then strolled around the city for a couple of days as a kind of three-way graduation present to ourselves. D. hadn’t been to the city during our five-year stay in NY, having missed the 2006 CCCC and our sprint down to the old Yankees Stadium last year around this time. During this little trip we took the W line from midtown Manhattan down to South Ferry, rode across the harbor and back on the Staten Island Ferry, wandered around Central Park (including the CP Zoo), ate brick-fired pizza at Angelo’s, and generally just meandered around and made the most of it. D., Ph., and A. (Ph.’s friend) took in a Broadway show last Wednesday, while Is. and I walked Times Square, hung out in Toys-R-Us, and got ice cream. Ph. and A. spent a couple of hours at the MOMA, too. Thursday, we all took the train back to Syracuse again.

Statue of Liberty

We were caught up in a heavy downpour the first day–not the best way to start things off. But the skies cleared up as we ate, and we still had time for the Statue of Liberty jaunt later that evening.

Central Park

We didn’t bring a stroller with us, which meant that D. and I spent a lot of time carrying Is. Not that we mind. But she is getting bigger, and we walked almost everywhere we went. By the end of the trip, my arms were starting to become frozen in the child-perch position.