And I think it is a wonderful symbol. Unlike the "cross" that was really just an iron support beam that landed upright after the explosions (and which got so much publicity as a "miracle" right after 9/11), the pear tree is a truly universal symbol that can be embraced by people of every faith or lack thereof. Like a phoenix from the ashes (if I may mix my species metaphors here) this tree symbolizes life and hope. For me, as a Jew, there is a double meaning, because the Torah is also called a "Tree of Life" -- and it is the Torah which gave our country its basic moral compass through the Ten Commandments, which include "Thou shalt not murder." For other faiths and philosophies, too, the symbolism of a Tree of Life affirms positive values.
|Survivor Tree in 2002|
(courtesy of NY Parks Dept)
Here's what the Survivor Tree looked like just a few months after 9/11 -- nothing much was left but the trunk and some stubs. "It looked like a wounded soldier," said horticulturalist Richie Cabo of the New York Parks Department. It was only 8 feet tall and barely alive when it was moved to their Arthur Ross Nursery in Van Cortlandt Park for rehabilitation.
Pear trees have amazing regenerative abilities, and it was not long before the tree began to sprout new growth. Cabo, who was just starting his career at the Parks Department at the time, spent nine years lovingly nursing the tree back to health. The tree is now 35 feet tall and has been transplanted to the Ground Zero memorial site, where Obama laid the wreath on May 5, 2011, almost a decade after the tree was damaged.
Some people have criticized "the press" for dubbing this a "survivor tree," claiming that the word "survivor" indicates defeat. I strongly disagree. First of all, it is not the first tree to be called a "survivor tree"; there is also one at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing. And secondly, a survivor is someone who overcomes tragedy against all odds -- and that is exactly what this tree did. When you look at that charred stump as it was right after the attack, it seems impossible that it could ever regenerate into a healthy tree. But it did. In the same way, we were deeply wounded at 9/11 but we were never defeated.
"The survivor tree is a testament [to] our ability to endure, the symbol of our unshakable belief in a brighter future," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who kicked off the 9/11 Memorial planting ceremony in December 2010.
Six other 9/11 survivor trees – three callary pears and three leaf lindens – are permanently planted near City Hall and at the Manhattan entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.
|The Survivor Tree recovered, September 2010|
(Photo courtesy of forestsociety.org)