THE ALLEY POND GIANT
June 11, 2013
The awesome shadow is the Alley Pond Giant, sometimes called the Queens Giant. It’s the most ancient living thing we know of in the whole city. This tulip tree might have been around in 1609 when Hudson turned his ship up the bay and saw a handsome people “clothed in mantles of feathers and robes of fur”—the orginal New Yorkers. It’s also the tallest tree in the city, but don’t take Wikipedia’s word for it, because their wintertime photo makes the noble old god look around seventeen and a half feet tall. Its real height: absolutely, terrifically huge.
To find the Giant, follow this map: it’s spot-on. You get to see a lot of Queens that you probably wouldn’t otherwise. This is the eastern limit of the city, a place of strange sights like dogs off their leashes and real houses with what appears to be sky above them.
Like everything striking and natural in New York, the old tree has built-in tensions. You access it by an asphalted path at the intersection of two unfriendly residential thoroughfares, about a hundred yards from the looping confluence of the Long Island Expressway and the Cross Island Parkway. Even when you’re halfway down the path, you can still see the semi trucks hurtling by, and there’s no point, even deep in the green, where you can’t hear the hiss of major traffic.
The path head looks like this:
And you’ll take it, because the other direction looks like this:
At first you’ll think that you’ve been lured into a facsimile of a trail, because all the nature is behind a black chain link fence. Then the fence suddenly stops. Head out directly into the wild. After about 50 yards, you’ll have seen a few trees that could or not be the one. Then there will be no doubt.
It reads, in part:
This tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipfera) is the tallest carefully measured tree in New York City with a height of 133.8 feet. It is also probably the oldest living thing in the City at an estimated age of 400 years or more...This tree is perhaps the last witness to the entire span of the City’s history from a tiny Dutch settlement to one of the great metropolises of the world...It has survived miraculously from a time when native Matinecock people trod softly beneath it to an age when automobiles roar by oblivious to its presence. If we leave it undisturbed, it may live among us for another hundred years or so.On the other side of the tree, like a warning to enjoy the power and otherwise mind your business, is your old friend poison ivy.