The object of this is to report a loss, in progress.
When a class graduates, a quarter of the population vanishes. For members of the graduated class who stay into the new academic year, the effect is strange. The street is full, at once, of unfamiliar faces. What had become a village over four years becomes what it is — a downtown district of a small city, a campus overrun for part of the year. A new class comes in, replaces the old class. The University, which is something beyond us, rolls on.
Even administrators and staff, faculty, trustees, chairs, dominions, what have you, peer in for a while, do their work and in more stately rhythm take their leave. There is no permanent living authority to oversee this passage of time. Nothing even to attest to it. The University. “Yale,” it’s called, because of a donor. Yale, because it’s here in this city, in these buildings. Yale, because of a mascot, a color, a yearly tradition or two.
To what is it all fixed? Three centuries have passed. Connecticut Hall remains. In three more centuries, barring apocalypse, Harkness will remain along with Woolsey, Sterling and whatever else. Stone is the material of choice. We prize it for its permanence. Take the Woolsey War Memorial, full of supple marble. It’s guarded by heavy doors and warmly lit at all hours. Take its ceiling vault of Mediterranean blue. In decades, should you visit, this will be exactly as it was. The whisper-soft sacrarium in the center of the palm. If any place could mean Yale, for its endurance and memory, its watchfulness over the human current, this could be it.
Sometime over the summer — in August? in July? — with no fanfare or protest, Yale removed a tree from Cross Campus. For beautification, for disease, for sightlines to Sterling (to speak of fanfare), for whatever reason. Who’s to say what kind of tree it was? Now it’s a stump. A roundish organic thing the size of a coffee table, barely visible above the grass. If you like, you can crouch beside it and count, with a finger, the fifty-odd rings of its existence. You can stand atop it and, gazing heavenward, taste the fifty-odd years of a unique former life. A place with its own colors and yearly traditions.
As of last Thursday this was true, the stump was there. I walked past on Friday to find a large hole covered with particleboard, cordoned off with caution tape. I walked past on Saturday to find — a new tree. A young elm, 20 or 30 feet tall. Its leaves are turning prematurely.
The speed of all this should be more disturbing.
The State of Connecticut requires that a paper notice be posted on a tree before its removal. Concerned citizens are given ten days to report their objections in writing. If even one letter is received, a public hearing must be scheduled. Perhaps a notice wasn’t required because the tree was on Yale’s property. Perhaps a notice did go up, but since it was summer and Cross Campus was full of high school students and tourists, no one bothered. Perhaps this was savvy planning. Some would call it a low trick. But each year, a quarter of the people who might have cared anyway disappears. And each year afterward, a quarter more. Trees come out. New trees are planted. The University, insensate, rolls on.
Vincent Tolentino is a senior in Pierson College. Contact him at email@example.com.