Botany of a Better Era, by Mary Collins
I return after three decades away to the botany of a better era, to centuries-old oak, hickory, maple and beech, with their fanning branches and roots I remember resting by during many a hot Hartford, CT, summer as a girl. The 19th Century architecture also remains, but in a wilted state of boarded windows, cracked foundations, and empty rooms filled with shattered things. My hometown has more buildings listed as national historic sites than any other city in America, but it’s like celebrating the bone structure of an old woman’s face; you see what came before but tend to focus more on what’s been lost. Only the trees continue to remind visitors and residents alike that the grandeur could return and be sustained.
So what can I, a professional writer and college professor, do to help this economically distressed New England city rebound, to become worthy of its trees and architecture? I begin with writing programs for the inner city and follow up with pedestrian and bicycle friendly advocacy work. What do these two agendas have in common? A more literate population will be more apt to care about the history of their neighborhoods, about the narrative behind where they live, and a more walkable and intimate street culture will create a stronger tie to place. They will want to continue the great story started by residents like Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and by institutions like the Wadsworth, one of the finest small city museums in the world.
The champion trees have not lost their allure and grace; now it’s time to reclaim the same for the city that surrounds them.