Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tree Tag

On my walk to work this morning, I found a small round aluminum tag on the ground next to the sidewalk. On it is stamped the number 187. Near the top is a tiny hole, through which a bent nail protrudes.

I have a habit of scanning for small bits of metal on the ground wherever I walk.

It's a habit left from childhood, when finding a penny actually meant something like two pieces of candy at the drugstore. I still pick up pennies. Coins of all size or nationality, actually, but no penny is not worth my time.

Nor are other bits of metal too useless to induce me to stoop for them, even enduring dirty fingers till I can clean my prize. I rarely pass up a whole assortment of detritus. Size matters though, since I don't fancy lugging around anything that is too big to fit in my shirt pocket.

Still I have quite a collection of bits of wire, sheet metal, washers, slugs, nuts, bolts, litlle once-molten drops of solder (a favorite), welding rod scraps, keys, rings and earrings.

In D.C. during the inauguration I collected at least a dozen earrings with the help of David and Valery, who are quite sharp-eyed. They had no interest in the other items on my list of acceptables, but suffice it to say that earrings were only a part of the trip's collection.

The 187 tag, while it may not have a significant cash value, turns out to be something of a special memento. It's unique.

It's a tree tag. So far as I know, the City of Austin has tagged every single tree of significant size in central Austin. It's easy to spot them. They are usually nailed in at about eye level and are stamped with a three digit number. I'm guessing that there is a database-imaybe just a simple spreadsheet--that coordinates these numbers with other information about the tree, like type, age, gps coordinates, etc.

So, when I picked up the tag and realized what it was, I began looking for the tree it had surely fallen from. I thought of vandals, wondering about the why of it all. I turned to the nearest tree, a foot away, to put it back. As to how I might do this I gave no thought; I don't carry a hammer in my bag.

But there was already a tag on the tree. Number 186.

Oh I thought, it's one down the other way. There were no other trees. I looked down and saw the fresh stump for the first time. My heart sank. Now how did I miss that?

I hope that all boys and girls who ever climbed a tree and really loved it will say a small mantra or prayer at the sight of a stump--especially a fresh one--for what we have been given by that tree. Even--perhaps especially--when it is not 'our' tree; one we've never had the honor to climb.

I collected the tag with an awkward bow to the absent tree and said silently, 'you'll be missed'.


d2 said...

Reminds me of the "Seven Stumps" painted green on that huge expanse of lawn... When David and I went there a few years back, even they were gone, decayed back into the hot, baked sod.

Daniel Norton said...

I wonder if you could easily look up that tree by the survey tag number and find anything else out about it. I imagine that number is not unique within the city, but is relative to a particular survey. Trees in Austin that are 8" in diameter are protected, except for trees at a single family home, which must be 19". (We apartment dwellers are gypped!)

bc said...

I always wondered what those tree dogtags were for--we found several as we hiked the woods behind our house on BeeCave Rd before it became St John Newman church and the SomethingOak Center. And I, too, have those same feelings when looking at stumps, Here in Holland someone placed a cross and flowers on a knoll where "they" had cut down a beautiful oak. I wish I had thought of doing that.