A LABOR OF WONDER: MAPPING 19,993 TREES IN CENTRAL PARK
Every year about 37 million people go to Central Park, and, finding themselves surrounded by 23,000 trees, most do not know their sassafras from their euonymus.
NEW YORK; USA; June 4, 2011.- But Ken Chaya and Edward Sibley Barnard are not like most people. Spend two hours walking the oxygen-infused oasis with this pair as quirky as the Quercus prinus (chestnut oak), and it’s as if all of your senses are on steroids.
You smell the fresh wintergreen scent of a sweet birch branch split open. You pick up a crusty pod from the Kentucky coffeetree and taste the molasses-like jelly inside (but not the seeds, which can be toxic if they are not cooked). You run your hands over the winged branches of the Euonymus alatus and they feel like cork.
You are mesmerized by the magenta leaves glowing atop the variegated European elm because of a beautiful defect. You hear a magnolia warbler chirping on a black cherry tree deep in the serenity of the woods.
And then you begin to understand the pure wonder that drove these two men to give up two and a half years of their lives to make a map that artfully and painstakingly details 19,933 trees in Central Park.
“The more I look at it and study it,” Mr. Chaya said under a pin oak in the park one day last week, “the more it reveals its secrets to me.”
Their map includes 174 species and represents about 85 percent of the vegetation on the park’s 843 acres.
“Do I want every tree?” asked Mr. Chaya, 55, a birder and freelance graphic designer. “Of course, but I’m crazy. You can’t have every tree. There’s great hubris in wanting every tree. But we got the big ones, we have the important ones.”
The pair, working independently from the city and without any subsidy from the Central Park Conservancy, the nonprofit organization that manages the park, said they had spent nearly $40,000 on the project — testing their families’ patience — because they cherished Central Park’s trees and wanted others to as well. They hope to just break even.
The two-sided, waterproof, 36-by-26-inch map, called “Central Park Entire: The Definitive Illustrated Folding Map,” is sold for $12.95 at the Dairy in the park and on the men’s Web site, CentralParkNature.com. They have sold about 1,100 copies of the $35 poster version since January. Some of the proceeds go to the Conservancy, the men said.
A legend displays a tree’s leaf or color, although many green hues look alike. Mr. Chaya drew the features, including buildings, trails, monuments, bridges and playgrounds. All restrooms are noted.
The map serves as a two-dimensional passport to a dynamic world that Mr. Barnard and Mr. Chaya brought to life on a personal tour, allergy attacks included. “Oak catkins,” said Mr. Barnard, 75, an author of a New York City tree guide and a former editor for Reader’s Digest. “They are flowers that dangle in tassels and release pollen. They look like tails of kittens.”