From the AnthologyReflections of the Land
So the plaque says you're a Moses Cleaveland tree. A committee measured the diameter of your prodigious trunk (with a steel tape held chest high) and certified that you date from the time of Moses Cleaveland's only trip to the wilderness of the Western Reserve in 1796. You managed to survive two hundred brutal years of European colonization, land speculation, lumbering, agriculture, industrialization, and suburbanization.
How did you do it? Were you simply lucky enough to grow off the beaten path? Were you a warrior? Were you especially cunning? Did you work hard to cultivate friendly land owners over the years? And after you escaped the axe, what combination of good genes and favorable habitat allowed you to overcome all the other assaults—disease, drought, lightening, wind, insects, soil compaction, air pollution—that weaken trees and eventually kill them?
For, in the absence of a cataclysmic event, a tree dies like a city from a thousand small insults. A drought stresses it. Insects and disease attack more easily. Leaves fall early, and one by one the branches drop. There are years of slow decline. Then the tree topples in the wind. The stump rots away.
But you were stubborn. You rooted in this place and kept sowing your seeds. Two hundred years. A million seeds. A million hopes. Against all odds, you are going to regenerate the native forest.
David Beach is a writer and activist who has been a leading voice on environmental and regional planning issues in Cleveland for more than 30 years. In 1992, he founded EcoCity Cleveland, a nonprofit organization that changed the civic discussion about urban sprawl, transportation alternatives, green building, watershed planning, lakefront design, and other issues. From 2008 to 2017, he directed the GreenCityBlueLake Institute, the sustainability center of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. David is a fifth-generation Clevelander. He lives in the city's Shaker Square neighborhood and can be found on Twitter @Lake_Effects.