An Elegy: the Angell Street Beech

The 110-year-old Copper Beech tree towering over Sharpe House will see its last spring this year before it is felled to make room for the new Performing Arts Center.

On Arbor Day, April 27, around 35 people clad in raincoats and huddled under umbrellas gathered in a wide ring around the tree to commemorate its time on campus.

“Over the past few days, I’ve noticed people just gathering around her,” Professor Nancy Jacobs said. “I think we’ll see more of that in the near future.”

Jacobs has looked out from her office at the tree for about 15 years. She sometimes calls her Angell after the nearest street.

“The people who care for the grounds, they don’t want to lose this tree,” Jacobs said. “They’re grieving it as much or more as we are.”

Speakers read from poetry, prose, and religious texts surrounding the spiritual and scientific richness of trees, delving into the intricacy of their chemical communication and the ways they have offered nourishment and hope to generation after generation. “There’s a certain eternal nature to trees, just like to wisdom. When you learn something, it can never die,” said Rabbi Michelle Dardashti. “We take seeds of wisdom, we take seeds of knowledge … and they become something else.”

Jacobs spoke about other trees populating the campus to weave together a brief history of Brown’s trees. An urban legend on campus suggests that the Rock library was built back from the street to accommodate a professor’s request to save Beech trees on the land. One tree blocking sunlight from the Urban Environmental lab became a point of contention when faculty hoped to remove it and install a solar energy collector, but the tree was ultimately preserved. The Watson Institute was planned around an elm tree — Elmo — which eventually contracted Dutch elm disease and was cut down in 2003. Elmo’s trunk was cast in metal, creating seating outside the Granoff Center, and a bench inside the Watson was built from its wood.

Speakers were hopeful for the legacy of the Angell Street beech. “She’ll become furniture, and paper for art projects and furniture and bowls and all sorts of things,” Jacobs said.

“I just hope that somehow burned into your brain, as well as into the pictures we’re taking today, is an archival memory that it existed,” said Rev. Janet Cooper Nelson.

“The big trees are all falling,” Jacobs said. “If we’re preserving the heritage of this campus, we have to preserve it as a place for big trees.”

“I wonder, in a hundred years, will people have individual huge trees that they come together to memorialize — to remember and to thank?” Jacobs asked.

 

(Courtesy of Nancy Jacobs)

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