Saying Goodbye to Bryant Park Christmas Tree, Decades After Climbing It

New York Times City Room
January 7, 2010

by A.G. Sulzberger

A tree only survives so long severed from its roots. The sad reminders of this are now plentiful in the city. Sweet-smelling needles adorn the floors of countless living rooms. Brittle, rust-colored skeletons of wood decorate curbside trash piles. At some city parks this weekend the dead or dying Christmas trees will be ground into mulch.

Even in a city accustomed to operating on a large scale, the numbers are eye catching: Last year the Department of Sanitation collected 122,235 Christmas trees. One of the biggest and most celebrated of these trees will disappear from its perch in Bryant Park on Sunday.

The 74-foot-tall Norway spruce, which was taken from a front yard in Nanuet, N.Y., six weeks ago, will be stripped of its ornamentation, cut in pieces, carted off and chopped to mulch.

In anticipation of the tree being taken down, Sara Kobylarz stopped by for one last visit with the giant that had begun its life as a potted plant in her grandmother's house, later growing large in the earth just outside the kitchen door. As a girl living just down the street from her grandmother, Ms. Kobylarz, 50, had played in its boughs. Several of her former neighbors who still live in Nanuet called her recently to tell her that the new residents of the house had cut the tree down and that she would have to make a journey to Bryant Park if she wanted to see the tree again. That trip happened last week.

"As we were approaching, it just got bigger and bigger and bigger," Ms. Kobylarz said. "It was more beautiful than I could have imagined."

Ms. Kobylarz wrote a letter to City Room, included below, sharing her thoughts about the passing of her grandmother's tree.

I am the granddaughter of the "former resident…" who planted the tree. Yes, it did begin its life indoors as a potted plant. My grandmother, an Italian immigrant from Sicily, had the ability and a very green thumb to nurture any plant. One day she threw a peach pit into the yard and would you believe a peach tree grew. Whether she was tending her roses or planting a garden, her magic touch inspired us all. Her ability to knit and sew allowed me to win first place for every doll contest I entered. Every blue ribbon had been dedicated to her. Her cooking skills would make any chef bow in humble adoration.

When I found out that my grandmother's spruce tree was in Bryant Park, it was bittersweet. As a child, (in the 1960s) my friends and I would play around the tree. That tree tested our climbing abilities and invited a number of summer picnics as it blocked the summer sun, as we sipped grape juice and ate our potato chips. I even believe her pet cat, Bootsey, had been rescued a few times from those spruce branches.

I took a trip with my childhood girlfriend to see the tree that had been an important part of my childhood. I stood there in awe. How magnificent. I touched the lower branches and felt like a child again. Memories swirled in my head of my beautiful grandmother. I wonder how she would have felt standing in the middle of Manhattan admiring her tree? As my girlfriend and I sat there I noticed tourists and visitors taking family pictures in front of the tree. Their bright smiles equaled the lights' glow that decorated this spruce. This tree is now part of everyone's life. There are countless pictures and memories that have added joy to this holiday season. As I turned to leave to make my trip back to New Jersey, I stopped for one last look. How would my grandmother have felt about her tree in the middle of Manhattan? Looking at the grandeur of its life, and the stories it could tell I believe she would have said, "This tree is now where it belongs… a true gift for everyone. Merry Christmas."

Sincerely yours, Sara Marie Kobylarz