QUEENS RESIDENT KIRSTEN DUCKETT IS A TREE HERO. BELOW IS HER STORY ABOUT ENLISTING THE HELP OF A MYSTERY MAN IN A BAT MAN SHIRT TO FREE A LONDON PLANE TREE ON HER ASTORIA STREET.
How long had you noticed the chain around the tree?
When I moved to a new apartment in Astoria, I had a new commute and on the way to the subway station everyday, I would see a plane tree with a big chain around it. It was clear that someone had been using it as a parking spot because there was a second, padded chain through the first and both were fixed at about the height of a moped. As I passed by, I noticed that the chain was digging into the bark. It had been there a long time and it made me sad for almost a year as I passed back and forth. In the end, this story has a happy ending because a man in a Batman T-shirt helped me to free the tree!
What made you think to remove it?
The chained tree was not dead, but how long could it withstand this confinement? I suspected that the dry cleaners or the restaurant just in front of it were responsible for the chain, and I thought about asking them to remove or to loosen it so that the bark could heal and the sap could flow. As I passed by every day, I kept a watch and I never saw a vehicle attached to the chain. There were delivery vehicles next to the tree, but not attached. So whose chain was it?
Later, I was sorry that I had been so slow to talk to the personnel in the two businesses directly. I needn’t have been nervous because they were perfectly reasonable. They didn’t know anything about how the chain got there and had no stake it its staying. According to them, the chain had been there as long as they could remember. I told them that it was hurting the tree and that it needed to be clipped off. They gave me their blessing to do it. The dry cleaner and I had a good chat about plants and trees.
The next stop was the local hardware store where I explained the problem and asked for help in solving it. Surely they had bolt cutters. But I ran up against some resistance there. I couldn’t decide if I was unlucky or mistaken. After the second unsuccessful trip there, I decided I needed some outside support.
Had you previously heard about The Treedom Project? How did you learn about Treedom Project?
At the same time I was canvassing the neighbors, I got in touch with the Treedom Project. In Greenpoint, I had seen a laminated sign attached to a rusty bike which was in turn attached to a tree. The sign was a notice that on a particular day, the tree would be unchained and anyone claiming the bike should take it before then. “How cool is that?” I thought, and noted down the website. I had never seen Treedom active in my neighborhood, but maybe there were sympathizers nearby. When I contacted Treedom with an address, a description and pictures, they were happy to help, but it was out of their way and it would take a few weeks to get out to Astoria. Because of personal travel plans, I was impatient to see that tree unchained so I tried again at the local hardware store.
How easy was it to convince the hardware store to loan you the bolt cutters? How long did it take to clip the lock?
My approach with the hardware store was to ask for a volunteer to clip the chain. It was a chain similar to the one I had bought from them to lock up my bike. I was told I should speak to the locksmith. I was told I should speak to a specific person who wasn’t there. The words ‘community service’ were not giving me the warm welcome I had hoped so after my second trip I tried to figure out what my budget was for paying them to walk two blocks and help undo human damage, but I would ask for pro bono assistance one more time first. Three’s the charm because on my third trip to the hardware store, the locksmith was present and in discussion with another young man, the guy wearing the Batman T-shirt. When I presented my request as cheerfully as possible, the locksmith said cautiously, ‘You want me to do it for free.’ At the same time, the customer/friend piped up, ‘If you lend me the bolt cutters, I’ll do it for free!’. My hero! Lending material pro bono was within the scope for the hardware store. Batman loped the two blocks with me the the tree and within 5 minutes, the tree was breathing easy again and the bolt cutters were returned to the store. It took two snips by a strong man. I stopped off at the deli and got the guys something cold to drink to thank them for their efforts.
Did any passersby ask what you were doing?
My interaction with the neighbors was really talking to the shop owners in front of the tree. I did mention that do volunteer work for Parks and on my second trip I had armed myself with an outreach flyer from Million Trees NY but that was probably not even necessary as everyone was super nice. I tried to teach Batman about tree health and the role of the phloegm, but he already knew about it!
(Kirsten Duckett, self portrait)
- Rob Birdsong