A 108-Foot-Tall Cottonwood Thrills the ‘Tree Hunter’

Good morning. It’s Tuesday. Today we’ll meet the tree that an arborist in upstate New York says is the biggest in the state. We’ll also look at the defamation case filed by Scott Stringer, the former city comptroller whose campaign for mayor sank amid claims of sexual assault from the early 2000s.

Credit…Fred Breglia

Sometimes Fred Breglia imagines rewriting a certain famous line. He thinks he will never see a poem as lovely as a big tree.

Lately he has been rhapsodizing about a very big tree that he encountered a few weeks ago — the biggest tree in New York State, by his calculations. It is 108 feet tall with a trunk 33 feet 9¾ inches in circumference.

“This tree has the potential to be one of the largest Eastern cottonwood trees in the world!” Breglia, who calls himself a “tree hunter” and is the executive director of the Landis Arboretum in Esperance, N.Y., wrote in an email. “It’s very exciting news!”

This was after a 45-minute telephone conversation in which he had described how excited he had been when he saw it for the first time in Schaghticoke, in Rensselaer County. “I wish I had videoed my reaction,” he said. “It was priceless. It was, ‘Oh, my God, this is hu-u-u-uge.’ People around there probably could have heard me.” Imagine the sound of not one, not two, but many exclamation points!

How can he be so sure it is the biggest? There is a formula, established in the 1940s by American Forests, that describes it as “deceptively easy” but has an 86-page handbook of instructions.

Until now the biggest tree in the state, with 480 points, has been another Eastern cottonwood, in Clinton, N.Y., according to the New York State Big Tree Register that is kept by the Department of Environmental Conservation. After careful measuring and remeasuring, Breglia calculated the one in Schaghticoke at 538.875 points.

It’s no sequoia. One in Tulare, Calif., stands 275 feet tall with a trunk that is 102 feet 29/50 inches around, more than twice the height and three times the circumference of the Schaghticoke tree, big enough for a whopping 1,533 points on the American Forests system, the most in the nation.

Still, the Schaghticoke tree was a surprise find that made 2022, already a big year for Breglia, even bigger. In May, while on his way to a fishing trip, he stumbled upon a tree that he expected to claim the biggest-in-state title in Coeymans, N.Y. The friend he was to meet was late. He looked around.

“Not far from the boat launch, I saw this big crown and I said, ‘That tree is monstrous,’” he recalled.

Later, he began researching big Eastern cottonwoods like the one in Coeymans. “An archival file that I had mentioned a tree breaking apart in the ’90s in Schaghticoke,” about 20 miles northeast of Albany. “I was thinking, is any part of it still there?” He put a post on a Facebook group he started: “Does anybody know if it’s still standing?”

Someone wrote back that it was. “I said, ‘That’s enough for a trip,’” Breglia recalled. The drive from Esperance, west of Albany, took a little more than an hour.

As he closed in on Schaghticoke, he could see a very big tree in the distance. “I told my wife, ‘Got to be it.’ You could see it had broken, but it had all these branches that were still alive, and when we got up to it, I was blown away by the size of the trunk. I really was.”

Best of all, the trunk was a single piece. “A lot of big trees you hear about are fusions of big trees, six or seven trees that grew together. A single-trunk plant, that’s what we’re looking for.” He was ecstatic. Break out the exclamation points. It was bigger than the one in Coeymans, though not by much.

Some of his Instagram followers were sure he was pranking them when he posted photos. “They thought it was a West Coast redwood, and maybe it was Photoshopped,” he said. “Of course it wasn’t.”


Enjoy a sunny day near 40. The evening is mostly clear, with wind gusts and temps dropping to the high 20s.


In effect until Dec. 26.

The latest New York news

Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times
  • Hospital cyberattack: Since late November, medical professionals at One Brooklyn Health have been using pen and paper after a cyberattack forced some critical services offline.

  • Left in failing schools: Parents who try to withdraw their children from yeshivas over a lack of secular education often cannot do so, hampered by social pressure and a rabbinical court system.

  • Harlem stabbing: Saniyah Lawrence, 16, was found inside a Harlem apartment building with a fatal stab wound. She was one of a series of teenage homicide victims this year.

  • Central Park Five: An entrance to Central Park will be named the Gate of the Exonerated, for the teenagers who were wrongfully convicted in 1989 in a case that triggered a national conversation on racial injustice.

  • Busy season for mariachi bands: They are overwhelmed by bookings when communities gather to celebrate the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, an annual tradition in Mexico.

Scott Stringer sues for defamation

Credit…Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

Scott Stringer, whose campaign for mayor was derailed last year by allegations of unwanted sexual advances in the early 2000s, has sued one of his accusers for defamation.

Stringer argued that the woman, Jean Kim, had tainted his reputation with falsehoods and misrepresentations and had done “irreparable harm to him and his political future” by describing what he called an “on-and-off” consensual relationship as predatory. Stringer demanded that she retract the accusations and pay damages.

The lawsuit, filed on Monday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, appears to be a calculated risk for Stringer, 62. My colleague Nicholas Fandos writes that if Stringer wins, it could help salvage his reputation as he contemplates a political comeback. But it will also put Kim’s decades-old claims of misconduct before the public once again.

For his case to be heard in court, Stringer must get around New York’s statute of limitations for defamation. In their effort to do so, his lawyers are relying on a relatively novel legal theory, asserting that the legal timeline restarted in August 2022.

They asserted that was when Kim spoke with Representative Carolyn Maloney at an event during Maloney’s primary campaign against Representative Jerrold Nadler, a mentor to Stringer.

“It was reasonably foreseeable” that Kim’s allegations “would be repeated,” the lawsuit said. That argument is built around photos on social media that apparently showed Kim at the campaign event with Maloney, who later “weaponized Kim’s allegations against Mr. Stringer and used them to attack Nadler,” Stringer’s lawyers wrote in their complaint. Maloney is not named as a defendant in Stringer’s lawsuit.

Kim likely to argue for dismissal because her original statements fall outside New York’s statute of limitations. Through a lawyer, she declined to comment on the case.

Stringer said in an interview that he had decided to take legal action now, even though waiting so long may have constrained his legal options. because what Kim said “was a lie.”

“It was just a total lie,” he said, “And I can’t live with myself if I did not do everything in my power to expose it.”


Goody got it

Every week since 1976, Metropolitan Diary has published stories by, and for, New Yorkers. Now we’re asking for your help picking the best Diary entry of the year. The voting closes on Dec. 19 at midnight.

Dear Diary:

It was 1958, and the first American Express cards had recently been issued. For my 19th birthday, my parents signed me up for one and described its purpose: I could use it to buy stuff without needing money to pay for it, at least not immediately.

A week later, I decided to try out the new card during a day trip to New York from my home in Connecticut. I soon discovered that credit cards were not yet widely accepted. The New Haven Railroad would only take cash. Same for the subway, the bus, taxis and hot dog vendors.

I stopped at a Sam Goody store. It appeared that I could use the American Express card to buy something there, but I was completely out of cash. How was I going to pay for the subway and the train home?

I picked out several albums and got in line to pay. When I got to the register, I handed the cashier my card, and he rang me up.

As he handed the card back to me, I nervously made my first attempt at something like arbitrage.

“Could you do me a favor?” I asked. “I’m short on cash, so, for the next few customers, could you charge their items to my credit card, and then give me the equivalent amount of cash?”

He mulled the proposal for a minute.

“Sure,” he said. “no problem.”

My first adventure in the world of high finance, courtesy of Sam Goody.

— David Klahr

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team [email protected].


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