The warm hat and the faded leaves in the background of this photo hint at when I snapped this shot: in the winter—the week between last Christmas and New Year’s Day, to be exact. You might wonder why I waited till now to post it, until I tell you this: I was saving this for the right occasion.
Today, the anniversary of the worst day in the lives of many of us born since the end of WWII, counts as “the right occasion.” Yes, I took this photo down by the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan. The small group gathered around the man in the hat were listening, as I was, to the story of the “Survivor Tree.”
The World Trade Center attacks 14 years ago were even more devastating to plant life than human life. Only one tree survived from that awful day: a pear celery tree on Church Street. Even then, its survival was a near-run thing when it was uncovered in the still-smoldering rubble some six weeks later, appearing as only a charred stump, with one green leaf left.
The guide in this picture—a worker trying to maintain communications in one of the buildings on 9/11, now a volunteer on the site—described to us how this stump was salvaged and transported up to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, where it was replanted. Five years ago, it was brought back down to Lower Manhattan.
As the only non-oak tree on the memorial site, the “Survivor Tree” is richly symbolic of a city that has adapted to catastrophic loss of life. What was lost that day cannot be returned, but what remains is adaptable and tenacious. It will persist not only as long as there are those who maintain it, but also as long as there are those around to tell and listen to the story of what happened that day that changed America forever.