We uprooted vandalism by mending a tree

We have a park in our neighborhood, where one day a small rescue occurred.

Our park has a playing field, a canopy of old trees, dappled lawn, and shadowy places hiding sylvan mysteries. And, of course, a stream traverses it, called Stony Run.

Despite its reputation as a gritty, eastern conurbation, much of Baltimore is green. Frederick Law Olmsted designed one of its parks, but the more interesting ones have grown up around the natural watercourses that evacuate the reaches north and west of the city. They were farmland once, but then were transformed by the antimagic we call development into conventional suburbs.

These streams, Jones Falls, Stony Run, Herring Run, and others that pass through the city, are highways for wildlife, the furry refugees from destroyed habitat.

My dog once startled a full-grown doe out of the stream near our apartment. It ran up the street, and left him looking puzzled: He had never seen such a creature.

I used to take my grandson to the park with the dog. Nick liked to throw sticks into the stream. These sticks, I told him, were launched on a long journey. If the water was running high the sticks could float to the end of Stony Run and into the deeper Jones Falls, which surges through the gentrifying old-mill section of the town, then into the Inner Harbor of the tourists; possibly they might drift out into the great Chesapeake Bay and, after that, if things went right, the stick could reach the sea.

"It could go to Europe, or Africa, even around Cape Horn."

"Where's Cape Horn?" Nick asked, and I told him what I knew about it.

"Of course," I explained, "the stick could get snagged and go nowhere. That's the way it is."

After that, with every launch of a stick, Nick would sound a benediction: "Good-bye stick! Don't get stuck!"

A few years ago, the city forester planted three new saplings in Stony Run Park: a black walnut, a maple, an oak, in a row. Not long after they were introduced, Nick and I were walking the dog and found that the trees had been attacked. Someone or some group had tried to destroy them, but had only succeeded in breaking the middle one, the maple. The sapling's trunk was split up the center. It was bent over so that its crown was on the ground. It wasn't broken entirely in half, though it did look finished.

"Vandals," I said, and explained as best I could what a vandal was: Somebody who destroyed things, living and inanimate, because it gives them the pleasure of rage or spite to do so.

Such acts are signs of social rot, and worse, for they can be contagious.

This is not new. People who run cities know that the best way to discourage vandalism is to fix what's broken right away: Repair every window, clean every wall. If someone dumps trash in the park in the night, clear it the next day.

"Let's try to mend it," I said to Nick. His face was full of doubt.

We looked around until my grandson, who is good at finding things, came up with some rope from the stream bank. We cut it in half with my pen knife, then pushed the tree up to a near-vertical position, bringing the split trunk together. We tied it as tightly as possible in two places. Then we propped it up with a stout stick.

But we felt no real satisfaction as we walked away. The tree's chances of survival were slim, despite our efforts: The wind could knock it over again, separate the joined trunk, and that would be the end of it. The vandals could return. The floating sticks, I said, had a better chance of reaching the sea than that tree of taking its place among the mature trees all around it. We were both a little glum.

Not long after that, my dog died. Nick grew a little more and moved to another neighborhood, so we don't visit the park as often as before.

Recently, however, I drove by the park and I happened to glance in the right direction. The three trees were still there; all of them were intact and had grown much since I last saw them. The middle one, the maple, was well, though bent or, some might say, deformed.

I wouldn't say that. In fact, the bend in the tree, where the split we repaired had begun, down near the ground, was now about three feet high, and the tree seemed to me – I hope this doesn't sound too precious – to be bowing toward the road.

That, of course, was an anthropomorphic thought, which I immediately expelled from my mind because I am a serious person. But I will say this: The satisfaction our efforts failed to deliver to us three years earlier finally arrived, none the weaker for the delay.

"We did it," I said to myself, almost out loud. "I'd better call and tell Nick."

So I did.

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