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‘The Survivor Tree,’ like agriculture, embodies resilience

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The World Trade Center 9/11 Memorial is a tribute to those who died in the terrorists attacks 11 years ago.

But the symbol of American resilience is the "Survivor Tree" which survived not only the attack on the World Trade Center, but two replantings and a windstorm.

The tree has now been replanted at the memorial, and new growth has emerged from what was once twisted and burned.

This July, I visited the 9/11 Memorial erected on the site of the original World Trade Center in Downtown Manhattan. The broad expanse of flat stone stretching over eight acres is very much a tribute to the old plaza that stood there 11 years ago. The hustle and bustle of financial enterprise, however, has been replaced by 400 swamp white oaks, a few rectangular strips of grass and dozens of granite benches that rise from the ground like vaults.

In the footprints of the twin towers, where the heart of the financial world once pulsed proudly, are two huge square pools. On all four sides, 32-foot waterfalls cascade into the pools, each descending into a center void. The names of the victims are inscribed in bronze parapets around the pools.

Nearly 3,000 people died that Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001. Some simply vaporized into oblivion. The youngest was two and a half. The oldest was 85.

The U.S. economy was supposed to be a fatality that day as well. Americans were supposed to falter after the blow. We were expected to run away from the fight.

But the terrorists greatly underestimated our toughness. For example, they could never have imagined that employees of the New York Board of Trade would walk across a bridge that same morning to start up a backup exchange in Long Island City, Queens. Within days, the new exchange was ready for business, keeping intact the city’s status as the world’s premier economic center.

After that, of course, we got even. The terrorists tucked tail and ran. And as we all know, they couldn’t hide.

If you ever go to New York to see the 9/11 Memorial, don’t forget to pay homage to a somewhat mangled tree just west of the south pool. The “Survivor Tree” is a Callery pear tree that was planted on the original WTC plaza in the 1970s and stood at the eastern edge of the site near Church Street. After 9/11, workers found the damaged tree, reduced to an 8-foot-tall stump, in the wreckage of Ground Zero.

The tree was nursed back to health in a New York City park and grew to be 30 feet tall, sprouting new branches and flowering in the springtime. In March 2010, the tree was uprooted by severe storms, but true to its name, it survived. In December 2010, the tree returned to the WTC site, where new growth is emerging from what was once twisted and burned.

The tree symbolizes the resilience that is not only important to the story of 9/11, but to the uncertainty in agriculture today, from the sluggish world economy, to farm policy to weather. Farmers, like the Survivor Tree, do their best work in familiar soils. Hopefully, we can keep it that way.

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