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Monday, September 22, 2014

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Nature at Arm's Length / Nina Miller

Published 4:15 pm, Monday, June 16, 2014
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Is that Levittown down there, I wondered? Looking out my cabin window as the jet approached LaGuardia Airport one sunny afternoon, I noticed rows and rows of similar looking single family homes. They were quite close together and, taking into account the requisite driveways, streets and parking areas, there wasn't much green space. I wondered how families living in this neighborhood were able to reach out and experience "Nature at Arm's Length."

Then I noticed trees; maybe just one or two per yard, but there they were.

One of my five "besties" growing up in Darien spent the first 11 years of her life in Levittown.

"It was my mom and dad's first house. They bought it just after my dad got back from the war for $5,000," she said. "All the houses looked the same, with a peach tree in the back and a pear tree in the front."

Like many animals in the world, we humans have always needed trees: wood for burning; wood for tools and utensils; wood for homes; wood for paper, toys and furnishings. Trees for food and clean air. Trees for climbing and making forts. Leaves for windbreaks, shelter, shade and soil. Roots to feed and steady tall trees, break up compacted earth and hold back steep banks.

In my backyard, I saw both a rabbit and a chickadee taking refuge beneath the snow-laden branches of a spruce in mid-February. I saw a squirrel licking sap from a tear in the trunk of a maple later that month and in early March, a sharp-shinned hawk perched on a low branch, waiting near the bird feeders.

Sixty thousand acres of flat grasslands known as Hempstead Plains was once considered the largest prairie in the eastern United States. In the late 1600s, the settlement of Hempstead was divided into territories, one of which was named Island Trees because it contained a tall group of pine trees that, from a distance, looked like an island. It was here, on an abandoned potato field in Island Trees bought by Abraham Levitt and his sons in 1947, that Levittown was born.

"A place that started out as an experiment in low-cost, mass-produced housing became, perhaps, the most famous suburban development in the world." -- Levittown Historical Society

Island Trees. Nice name.

Nina Miller is a Darien resident.