There's an App for That, but Possibly Not This App

Harold and I went for a stroll this morning across the bridge to New Hope, to stretch our legs and partake of coffee and a croissant at C'est La Vie, the French bakery. I brought my new smartphone along. The point of having a smartphone is to load it up with apps that help you find out stuff, right? Or games, if I wouldn't go blind trying to see games on the tiny little smartphone, whose virtual keyboard is so tiny and little that I can't work the keys with my big fat fingers. I put up with this because I want to find out stuff as I stroll along. If not for that, I could get one of those geezer cell phones with the big numbers that don't do anything but let you call people.

The view from the bridge was lovely, as usual. I snapped a picture of it with my smartphone. If you look carefully you can see people fishing for shad over in the deep part of the river on the Pennsylvania side.

We reached C'est La Vie and secured coffee and croissants, which we took out on their patio overlooking the river. Between their iron gate and the river is a garden with a big, rambling tree.

"I wonder what kind of tree that is," Harold said. The leaves had been out long enough to begin assuming their ultimate shape,  almost the shape of a maple leaf. The bark was coarse and possibly shaggy. A man came out of the garden. Harold asked him whether he knew what kind of tree that was.

"No," the man said. "Guess it's a maple." Well, it didn't look like a maple tree to us. But, wait! I had an app for tree identification, Audubon Trees. I whipped out my smartphone and invoked the app.

First thing it did was to nag me to sign up with Nature Share. I don't want to do this. The proper enjoyment of nature is a solitary activity, in my book, to be shared only with one's closest companions, not strangers on social media. What if they were to disagree with my identification of the tree? What if I were dragged into a flame war? What if nature trolls were to come after me and clog my bandwidth with hostile messages? No. All I wanted was to identify this tree.

Very well. What is the shape of the tree?

The tree was amorphous. It could even have been more than one tree. There were multiple trunks. Was it a shrub? No, dammit, it was a tree the size of a house.

At about this time I began to recall my days in botany class as a freshman in college. We went out on the campus and identified trees. As I remember we started with the leaves, their shape. No such option was being offered to me by this bogus app.

"This app is bogus," I said to Harold. "It merely pretends to offer me the opportunity to identify trees. If I were to take my smartphone backpacking, instead of the tree book we bought for that purpose, it would be useless. We would be sorry we hadn't taken the paper book." We denounced the app for awhile, finished our coffee, and strolled off to Farley's Book Shop, where the cover of Joyce Carol Oates's latest work made us laugh hysterically. The way they set up the type, it's a double entendre.

It seems to say, "THE ACCURSED JOYCE CAROL OATES." A bit strong, I would have said, although her publisher might have some reason or other to be annoyed with her. The red sneakers reflected in the window are mine.

Now that I look at the Audubon Trees app more closely, I see that it does give you a shot at identifying a tree by the leaves, but it's an advanced search option, not the first thing they offer you. This is wrong. I could design a better app than that. Palmately lobed, right. Then a choice of bark, and then a search. Let's see now… Hmm. Still can't figure it out. Don't tell the gang at Nature Share. It's none of their business.

Kate Gallison