For the Love of a Tree

Anyone who has been in a high school creative writing class knows one snapshot tells multiple stories. The image below could be a tragedy in the way it conveys the tenuous grasp humans seem to have on the natural world. Like in a Shakespearean tragedy, no one is left standing on this dreary stage, except that annoying guy who emerges from behind the curtain in the end to say “alas.” If I tell the story of this picture as a tragedy, I have to be the annoying guy.

No thanks.

I’m much more fond of love stories, dark and funny ones that reveal the length a person will go for the love of another…person, usually. This image tells a story of the love one guy (okay, so I see this character as a guy. I’m fascinated by man love) has for a tree, the length he  will go to sustain a relationship with his beloved long after everyone else can see it’s over. Friends will come by and shake their heads. Some might say “perhaps it’s time to think about…you know…getting another…tree.”

He’ll tell these heartless friends to get the hell out of his yard. Then he’ll pat the foliage that he’s lovingly trained around the dead palm’s stump and mumble things like “don’t listen to them. They don’t know you like I know you.”

Ah, love.

And, yes, I can hear the theme song to Love Story playing faintly in my head right now.

And, yes, I can hear the theme song to Love Story playing faintly in my head right now.



Trees in Melbourne

I’ve been in Melbourne at the NonfictionNow 2012 writers conference for two days. The conference, which is excellent BTW, is in the downtown area where trees aren’t too prevalent and are a bit overshadowed by the quirky architecture. The building where the conference sessions are being held looks like it’s being attacked by a green virus. That being said, I sat on a panel in the Green Brain (that’s what it’s called) yesterday and it is the nicest space I’ve ever presented in. The view to the street and the light was lovely.

I did get a chance yesterday to walk through Carlton Gardens nearby. If trees could grow this majestically in Phoenix, I’d imagine they’d be everywhere. I’m surprised I didn’t walk into a pond for all the time I spent stolling with my head tipped back so I could see the light grace through the canopies. Simply magnificent. The trees in my region have to hover close to the ground to suffer the heat and aridity. To enjoy the same canopy view, I’d need to lie on the ground looking up.

awesome branching

an allee in Carlton Gardens, Melbourne

Ungodly Blooms

A benefit to waking early―not farmer early, but night owl who has to pee early, which this morning meant 7:45―is getting to see the Easter lily cactus blooms, a lovely surprise especially since it’s mid-September. The weather is turning towards cool―again not Vermont cool, just late summer mid elevation desert cool, so low 80s―and I’ve decided to drink my morning coffee in the front court garden. I forgot to put on my glasses before walking outside and am too sleepy to fetch them, so I don’t expect to notice anything. I sit down and am about to settle into the quiet blur of waking my brain when I see the pink blooms. I knew they were coming since the buds emerge slowly over a matter of days, but I still gasped at first sight.

The Easter lily cactus is so called for its inclination to bloom at Easter time. I think mine is a pagan. It sends out flowers with complete disregard for the Christian holy calendar. It does have a habit of putting out three blooms at a time, a nod to the Catholic Trinity perhaps or just good design sense, following the rule of threes (though never fives for this particular plant). I bought it during a macro photography class I took in 2009, right around Easter. The class met to shoot pictures at a plant nursery and I found this cactus covered with flowers and spent the rest of the morning stuffing my macro lens into the blooms. The least I could do was take it home afterwards. Nurseries coddle plants so they look their best.  I brought the cactus home and it somehow knew rules in this new garden were loose. One year it put out tiny ragged flowers, each petal serrated like soft pink knives. This year, I think in response to all the rain we’ve had this summer, it’s opened up multiple times, almost aligned to summer solstice and fall equinox. Had it been more on top of it, it’d be downright Wiccan.

I credit exuberant blooms to either attentive gardening or imminent death. Not a coddler by nature, I’m concerned for the cactus. All these flowers might be the plant’s swan song, especially since it is also pushing out pups, small versions of itself that appear tenuously attached to the larger arms and could easily brush off and tangle in the fur of a hairy beast and then drop off elsewhere to make a life of their own. The only hairy beasts in my garden are the stray cats that live in the sewer drain at the end of the street. They frequent my front yard, lounging in the grass like miniature lions on the savanna, and leave sad piles of bird feathers on the lawn. They also spray smelly cat musk by my front door and drink from the courtyard fountain. Ours is a relationship of wary tolerance and while they lay about like they own the place I doubt one will ever leap up onto the wall where I keep the Easter lily cactus and give the plant one of those friendly side rubs cats use to get people to pet them.

So the cactus may be singing to no one. Except me and my camera. Click click, RIP. My eulogy for it might go like this: I remember your surprising flowers more than your otherwise quiet patience all the days you waited for just the right signals to bloom. I apologize for my narrow attention, but in this regard I’m not much different from a bee.

The Trinity of Blooms and a Bee by me

The Auguries of Innocence

It’s my son’s first day of fifth grade, his last year of elementary school, and I just dropped him in the drop-off line and he walked in without hesitation, just a few neck twitches and head bobs to indicate nerves. It seems so long since I had to sit beside him each morning while he made little movies on my phone instead of venturing out into the playground with all the other kids. I’d still be there standing by the door as he lined up and marched into Mrs G’s half-day kindergarten class, his second go at kindergarten after the disastrous try at Our Lady of Perpetual Stress.

Instead I’m home sitting in the front garden courtyard trying to enjoy a little outside time before the heat descends. It’s already too hot, but I’m out here anyhow. There is a romance in the idea of writing in the garden, letting the words tumble out to the cadence of fountain burble, but in truth I’ve been having hot flashes and any spike in nervous energy sets one off. Just now the admission that the reality of a romantic writing session in the garden like I’m Dorothy Wordsworth scribbling in her journal, her famous writer brother at her elbow, the falseness of it sends my body into a flood of heat and sweat.

Still, it’s lovely the way the slant morning sun illuminates the jacobinia leaves, how thick and tropical these shrubs look despite the desert climate. I can almost ignore the airplanes that roar in and out of Sky Harbor or the workers next door who just arrived to bang metal pipes together. Sound torments the moment, the delusion of the moment, but I’m going to sit here and write and pretend for a few more words that I am Dorothy Wordsworth. It is 1803 and William and I just arrived in the Lakes District to amble about in the glow of the countryside. I’ll scout the dirt roads for ordinary travelers, a fisherman perhaps, for William to build a poem around. One of the workers drops a metal pipe onto the concrete drive and I’m back to being me. Sirens sound in the distance. It’s hot even in the shade of the mesquite that drapes over the courtyard. I’m thinking about ways to club the workers with the seemingly infinite supply of pipes in the back of their truck.

I sit out here to try and disprove the long-standing American myth of wilderness promulgated by Thoreau and Muir, this idea that one can’t find nature until he or she has first lost humanity. Whitman didn’t believe that. Neither did the Wordsworths, though they romanticized the poor, the country bumpkins, turning them into images of virtue, editing out poverty or making it seem honorable to suffer. Somewhere a truck is backing up, beep, beep, beep…Am I wrong about where wilderness exists? Do people, as Muir argued, ruin a true connection between the individual and wilderness? Is the wilderness experience only for lone wanderers like him? Thoreau edited out humanity to make the short walk into the town of Concord seem farther, which in turn made his abode by Walden Pond seem wilder. And nature writing enthusiasts have edited his work further in anthologies to make his rather tame countryside version of wilderness more aligned with the rugged lands in the West. What about that great insight of William Blake in his poem Auguries of Innocence, especially the opening lines?

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

This seems to imply a wilderness that can exist in small spaces, like my front courtyard garden, but then the poem goes on to rail against humanity, how each attempt to wrestle nature into domestic control results in the silencing of angels. To anger an ox is to be spurned forever by the love of any woman. Who wants that? Blake singles out war, greed, licentiousness and most of all doubt as reasons human beings stray from God and subsequently denigrate the natural world. “He who Doubts from what he sees/Will ne’er believe, do what you Please,” writes Blake, which seems to me to mean that all the ways in which people destroy nature that Blake called out prior to these lines are problems of lack of faith. The idea that God put all this nature on earth for humans to do what they please is a flawed interpretation of God’s will, so Blake seems to say. Rather consider the innocent vision of children, and damned be those who don’t, as he warns:

He who mocks the Infant’s Faith
Shall be mock’d in Age & Death.
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall ne’er get out.
He who respects the Infant’s faith
Triumph’s over Hell & Death.

Jack hammers in my neighbor’s back yard win. And another hot flash has made the warming morning air feel like a sauna right after a fellow naked steamer has poured cold water on the hot lava rocks. I’m going in, which for me has never held inverse truth of Muir’s observation that going out is really going in. Going in is not going out for me. The door will shut and even a view from the window won’t connect me to the dove that just now is tipping its head to drink from the fountain. Romantic, yes, as though it’s sent from Dorothy herself. The automatic sprinklers just clicked on and drenched my laptop. I’ll take that as a sign to go inside to ponder the meaning of wilderness further and wait for school to let out.

hands of me and my son, image by me
BTW all moms have an extra set of hands for just such occasions

Auguries of Innocence
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dove house fill’d with doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions.
A dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A Horse misus’d upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.
A Skylark wounded in the wing,
A Cherubim does cease to sing.
The Game Cock clipp’d and arm’d for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright.
Every Wolf’s & Lion’s howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul.
The wild deer, wand’ring here & there,
Keeps the Human Soul from Care.
The Lamb misus’d breeds public strife
And yet forgives the Butcher’s Knife.
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that won’t believe.
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbeliever’s fright.
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belov’d by Men.
He who the Ox to wrath has mov’d
Shall never be by Woman lov’d.
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spider’s enmity.
He who torments the Chafer’s sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night.
The Caterpillar on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mother’s grief.
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly,
For the Last Judgement draweth nigh.
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar.
The Beggar’s Dog & Widow’s Cat,
Feed them & thou wilt grow fat.
The Gnat that sings his Summer’s song
Poison gets from Slander’s tongue.
The poison of the Snake & Newt
Is the sweat of Envy’s Foot.
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artist’s Jealousy.
The Prince’s Robes & Beggars’ Rags
Are Toadstools on the Miser’s Bags.
A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so;
Man was made for Joy & Woe;
And when this we rightly know
Thro’ the World we safely go.
Joy & Woe are woven fine,
A Clothing for the Soul divine;
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
The Babe is more than swaddling Bands;
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made, & born were hands,
Every Farmer Understands.
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity.
This is caught by Females bright
And return’d to its own delight.
The Bleat, the Bark, Bellow & Roar
Are Waves that Beat on Heaven’s Shore.
The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of death.
The Beggar’s Rags, fluttering in Air,
Does to Rags the Heavens tear.
The Soldier arm’d with Sword & Gun,
Palsied strikes the Summer’s Sun.
The poor Man’s Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Afric’s Shore.
One Mite wrung from the Labrer’s hands
Shall buy & sell the Miser’s lands:
Or, if protected from on high,
Does that whole Nation sell & buy.
He who mocks the Infant’s Faith
Shall be mock’d in Age & Death.
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall ne’er get out.
He who respects the Infant’s faith
Triumph’s over Hell & Death.
The Child’s Toys & the Old Man’s Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons.
The Questioner, who sits so sly,
Shall never know how to Reply.
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out.
The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesar’s Laurel Crown.
Nought can deform the Human Race
Like the Armour’s iron brace.
When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow.
A Riddle or the Cricket’s Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply.
The Emmet’s Inch & Eagle’s Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile.
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will ne’er believe, do what you Please.
If the Sun & Moon should doubt
They’d immediately Go out.
To be in a Passion you Good may do,
But no Good if a Passion is in you.
The Whore & Gambler, by the State
Licenc’d, build that Nation’s Fate
The Harlot’s cry from Street to Street
Shall weave Old England’s winding Sheet.
The Winner’s Shout, the Loser’s Curse,
Dance before dead England’s Hearse.
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born.
Every Morn & every Night
Some are Born to sweet Delight.
Some are Born to sweet Delight,
Some are born to Endless Night.
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro’ the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to Perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light.
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in the Night,
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.