Hydrogen Jukebox Press
An Online Edition
edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers
May 28, 1914
Gardens are cooking in the ground;
forest streams are shrunk to a few pools of tepid water barely connected by a trickle. All
small upland plants are limp if not crisped and dry, and there is a noticeable dearth of
herb and blossom. All the green things of earth together seem
"Crying, O beloved, we are very weary,
We are dying; send the blessing of the rain!"
At sunrise the first beams fall like a living touch. Out of a sky brazed with dust the heat leaps on the land like some giant cat of the desert. Every day a dazzling pageant of phantom imagery wrought in silver and pearl rises over the smoke of the city, and climbs till it fills the sky; glows and flushes in the light of sunset and is touched by moondawn to indescribable ghostly beauty. But before morning they vanish utterly away.
Only round the faithful fountain there is coolness and glad green growth, and the splashing of uncounted little wings.
"Why so silent, Sparrow? You look sad," said the Gray Pigeon, missing the continual stream of argumentative chatter than usually accompanies the Sparrow's presence.
"You would look sad if you saw friends of your race perishing slowly before the eyes of those who could save them and will not," lamented the Sparrow.
"What friends? I took you for a creature utterly independent of all relations, Sparrow."
"I am not dependent upon man or beast; but I am upon the Fireman's basin, and on the food and shelter supplied me by the Trees," replied the little materialist. "It is the Trees, the Trees that are dying! Oh, not on this square," in answer to the Pigeon's startled glance at those in the courthouse yard and on Georgia avenue, "nor not everywhere by any means; but along streets where their roots are cramped and bruised and tortured by the stone and brickwork of man's devising.
"Some builders make no allowance for the life that is in the street but run their rigid angles of masonry against its veined and breathing body as if it were a stark pillar of dead wood.
"Fortunately not all are so stupid. On some streets a sufficient space--three or four feet--is allowed for growth and the eccentricities of the spreading roots. The sidewalk suffers nothing in consequence, being still left a width ample for all purposes likely to arise in that part of town. The trees here stand green and flourishing, able to resist any ordinary drought. But there are other residence streets whose attractiveness depends largely on the green arch of interwoven boughs that almost spans them, where for whole blocks not a tree is blessed with an inch of growing room. The bricks and asphalt or paving blocks are laid quite up against the bark, into which they cut deeper and deeper as the tree grows, finally girdling it--and always telling against its efforts to live through a time like this. Sometimes for several feet around the bricks are tilted this way and that, thrust upward in a pitiful attempt to push them out of the way. In one place on Oak street a tree is quite dead, and three beside it are showing an ever larger proportion of leafless boughs.
"One magnificent elm on the east side, with graceful spread and droop of boughs that is simply beyond valuation to the property fronting it, had the misfortune to be placed on the wrong side of the walk, next the fence. You would suppose that builders might welcome so graceful a deviation from the terrible angular precision of the city pattern; but no, they could not plan a gate and walk anywhere but exactly in the middle of the yard and before the central front door of the house. The sacred geometrical symmetry of the traditional front yard could no more be altered than the laws of the Medes and the Persians, or the instinctive hexagonal cell-pattern of the bee. So the roots were cruelly cut and bound by the stone curbing and gate post, that the rule might be satisfied. If the tree dies the folks will probably ascribe it to some mysterious blight.
"People seem to think," added the Fireman, "that a tree does not feel the weather and can survive any conditions--in spite of the country saying that you must not walk three times around a chestnut. They do not perish so readily as the little shrubs and groundling grasses, it is true, but they grow rapidly during a wet year, and fall back on their reserves during a season of scant moisture.
"Hence a section cut across the grain of a tree so as to show the concentric circles of its growth is a real meteorological records of the years it has lived, a wide ring representing a year of accelerated growth during heavy rainfall, and a narrow one showing that little was accomplished in that year. The tree has enough to do to keep alive in a cycle of drought like the present."