A few weeks ago, I went to my parents’ house in Bergen Beach, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that was massively flooded by the superstorm Sandy. I was going out there to paint the ground floor of the house – the floor destroyed by the flooding. As I drove my car into the neighborhood, something seemed off. Turning my car onto the block on which I grew up, I realized: The Trees.
They’re bare this year. I had noticed the other neighborhood foliage – the brown lawns, the random dead boxwoods among surviving boxwoods, the junipers that seemed to be shriveled – but I hadn’t yet noticed the trees until that day. Maybe it was a particularly sunny day, or maybe I just decided to look up. Either way, this is one of those things we didn’t think to ask in October: What was this polluted bay water going to do to all of the landscaping, the lawns, the trees?
I can tell you the answer to this question, now. The maple trees I grew up with will fare better than the rest. Many branches will be missing leaves, but most will return. Some of the pines that line the property next door will die, and some of the pines will survive. The London Planes, whose bark I loved to peel, will be the worst. They’re huge, towering over the houses in the neighborhood, and on many, only a few branches will have leaves.
Bergen Beach had never been the victim of a flood like this before. Yes, there had been backed-up sewers and random basement flooding during storms, but never before had the basins of Jamaica Bay that surround the neighborhood risen to such heights. Whatever raw sewage or industrial output that was in that water soaked everything. Especially the trees. It’s hard to see it like this, especially since I’m now a visitor, cloaked with memories of childhood summers and heavy shade.
This neighborhood is strong, though. My parents are probably the last of their neighbors to complete reconstruction of the ground floor. Many demolished and rebuilt almost immediately, but my parents waited for a FEMA appeal and warmer weather; they wanted to be sure the wooden studs were completely dry. My dad got the hot water heater and boiler working after the storm, and now he’s in the process of replacing them. The floors are tiled, the walls are complete and painted, the new washer and dryer are connected. This week, someone will come and install a new central air conditioning unit. And then, we will shop for furniture.
The trees are strong, too. I’m hoping in the years to come the leaves will grow back, make their way out of the branches of those trees. When I look up, I want to see the trees I knew as a child. I want to see the green again.