Giving Thanks to the Trees

How do we bring a sense of wonder into our engagement with nature, and foster a sense of stewardship towards the landscape around us, for ourselves, and the generations to follow? Palisades resident Al Perlmutter has achieved these things by making a particular Sugar Maple tree the focus of a family tradition that now goes back 25 years.

It all started just before Thanksgiving. Al returned from one of his regular weekend walks through Tallman Park to be confronted with the sort of rapid fire interrogation that only a prepossessing pre-schooler can accomplish so winningly. His five-year-old grandson asked “What did you see?” Al’s laudable on-the-spot response was surely what anyone would have said under the same circumstances…

"I saw smoke in the distance. I followed it and came to an interesting tree shaped like a candelabra, and under it there was an Indian sitting at the base, roasting marshmallows and hot dogs. We spoke and he told me that he had lived at that spot over two hundred years ago and that he now comes back every year at around this time to see what we have done with the land. He told me it smells different now to how it used to, and there are many more people. He misses listening to the conversations of the birds. The air is filled with other sounds now."

This story sparked the imagination not just of Al’s grandson but his whole extended family. He took the grandchildren to visit the tree, and now every year at Thanksgiving, the Sugar Maple that stands between the parking lot and the bicycle path is the site of a Perlmutter tradition. Family members gather together in a ring around the tree, talking about the tree, what it might have seen in its lifetime, the indigenous Native American tribes that used to live here, the surrounding landscape, and its possible future. There is a knothole in the trunk in which Al hides gifts for the children from the ‘Indian’ of their imagination: Native American Dreamcatchers, small replicas of birch bark canoes, and ceramic objects.

Cue Clark Alexandre, Manager of Tallman Park since 2001. Inspired by the trailside museum at his prior position at Bear Mountain Park, Alexandre had long been incubating a project that he hoped to put in place - that of installing educational signs for certain trees. The park is home to some beautiful specimens of native trees and he felt that there was room to further engage and educate children and adults alike with information regarding species name and interesting facts. A chance conversation between Mr. Alexandre and Mr. Perlmutter led to Al agreeing to sponsor the first prototype of these metal plaques for his ‘Indian Tree,’ which was put up just in time for Thanksgiving 2012. Two years later over the next few weeks many more such plaques will be installed along the path that runs between the parking lots and the bicycle trail. Alexandre anticipates approximately 50 plaques will eventually be in place, all thanks to his perseverance and vision, the continued generosity of Al Perlmutter, the Hudson River Valley Greenway, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, the Palisades Park Conservancy and their guides.