Wednesday, July 27, 2011

7/25 Losing A Limb

Not mine, fortunately. A limb belonging to the double-trunked oak tree, which holds down the earth in the sunrise corner of the garden like the colossus it is.
I suspected something up when the noise of the tree-chipper machine in a neighbor’s yard went on too long. It’s a distinct noise, not rare enough among the domestic mechanical voices which disturb our humble attempt to cocoon ourselves in a little paradise of green. It tells us that someone is chipping away at the urban forest.
After a half hour or so of intermittent grinding, I stick my head out a window and locate the source. Yes, the house behind our right-hand neighbor. A couple of workers appeared to be taking down a mid-sized tree in the back yard of a man who lives, seemingly alone, in a house fronting on the next street over. I have seen him; I presume he has seen me. We do not share a common tongue.
I think of a line from Finnegan’s Wake. “You are inedible to me.”
But the noise kept on too long. Pausing in my work a while later – no doubt at the point where any excuse would do – I stare out the window again and noticed my neighbor’s harmless, unassuming tree has been reduced to a little stub of a thing, a broken toy disregarded on the face of the earth. And still the work of destruction goes on.
Then I guess. They must be up in my tree.
I put on some shoes – it’s gray, rain-threatening day – and trot out back to my fence. Four young men in blue shirts that say the name of their company wait in a loose line against the wall of neighbor’s house. One of their colleagues, at least, is strapped among the limbs of the giant oak, working his chain saw. Some small branches have fallen. Some sawdust covers my fence, and leaves have fallen on both sides of the fence that separate’s the Chinese gentleman’s and our right-hand neighbor’s yards.
The four spectators stare at me, but say nothing. I make the “over here, bud” gesture with an index finger to them. Somebody speaks to somebody else, and one of them comes trotting over to the fence to mollify me with politely offered explanations.
They are only cutting from the fence line, polite blue-shirt tells me. He has taken a class in handling older neighbors who grow crotchety over losing favorite trees.
No part of the tree on my side will be cut, blue-shirt assures me.
Damaged? I say.
Or damaged, he adds.
Since most of the tree by far is on our property, and only one fat, yardarm-pointing branch runs over to his, the tree should still be healthy after this loss of limb. Of course how can blue-shirt be so sure?
I seek assurances that they won’t cut any part of the tree over my right-hand neighbor’s yard. Oh no, he says, we won’t cut any part of the tree over her fence line either.
“But he has the right to cut the part of the tree over his property?” I persist, wanting it all spelled out.
You have rights and responsibilities for tree maintenance in the air over your property line, he tells me, but not over your neighbor’s.
Liability too? Yes.
So much to the good, I think, since we had worried that we would some day be responsible for pruning out tree away from the house of the Chinese man, who was now clearly taking matters in his own hand. Of course, I am taking the word of a tree-trimming service for this. But I decide to, and walk back into my house, unwilling to watch the dismemberment continue.
And so a gigantic limb – I do not see it (or hear it) fall – disappears that afternoon. Turned to ragged mulch and saw dust by the tree-eating machine and the men who fed it.
I see its absence, however. In the garden at the end of the day, I picture in my mind the place where this many-tonned horizontal expression of the might of trees, the aristocracy of the green plant world which sustains animal life (such as human), had reached mightily into the cosmos.
No more. In its place, plein air.
It feels like there’s a hole in the universe. A piece missing from the puzzle.
The kingdom of the squirrels has been reduced, which may be to the good. But also of the birds; a loss. The elderly gentleman who lives in the house now freed of the shadow of a mighty oak will have more sun and sky to himself. I hope he can do something with them.
As for me, I miss this customary sidetrack extension of the oak tree’s heavenly highway. Less for the use the squirrels and birds made of it, but for the good it brought to us. Shading a good piece of our outdoor breakfast area from the morning sun. Less practically, but further-reaching, deeper, enclosing our make-believe paradise in the crook of its great arm clothed in curtains of green.
This thrust into neighboring air space was part of our protective coloration, our hiding in plain sight. I feel more exposed, not longer quite so sheltered under the massive arms of the heavy oak. I fantasize planting tall shrubs, tall pointy conical cypresses, maybe, against the back fence to help build back our bubble; and make tentative plans to transplant a tall perennial from the front garden back here.
I am over-reacting. But the loss of something comforting, familiar, and possibly sheltering poses a dilemma. I don’t like the idea of shutting other people out, but I very much do like the idea of enclosing myself in, protectively, privately, naturally. There’s a contradiction here, and I am loath to face it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

7/16 July Happens Fast

Chained to my diet
Watching heirloom tomatoes
Turn red with envy

The high summer month goes by fast, changing its aspect like a diva with a full wardrobe closet.
There are the days when the world grows up quickly around you, covering all you see with glittering morning light. The plants hold the cool of the night and radiate contentment. Leaves flowers glow in the shade, a subtle sideways light, playing on the moisture wherever it finds it.
Good days. Early, crisp, cool, sun on the way. The insects have stayed up late and aren’t awake enough yet to find you by the tantalizing smell of your blood.
The first hot days of summer. When the evening comes, the cool is delicious. The first nights of the year when you can’t possibly stay indoors. When the house is quiet, and the street dead still, some houses already dark, you step out on the porch to look at the night sky and feel the cool touch of the night air. Then you walk out into the middle of the street and crane your head upward toward the moonlight, if it’s that time of the month, or the starlight if it’s not. You wonder why everyone doesn’t spend their nights out of doors and their afternoons indoors, asleep.
The hot and humid days arrive. At first only a few, no more than two in a row. But you see what these days do the earth and to the more sensitive plants: those in pots, those which hang their leaves like old rags at the first sign of water-loss.
The days when the first thing you do in the morning is put flip-flops on and walk outdoors, where the temperatures is exactly the same as it is indoors, and turn on the hose. The lace-cap hydrangea is already suffering. The ground feels likes a waste lot after a visit from a steamroller. Little marginal sprouts of this or that show you they are nearing the end. One more day like the last one, they soundlessly promise, and you’ll be sweeping up their remains.
You hose some water on the worst spots, the driest plans. You remember why July is not a good month for transplants.
The quiet overcast day arrives. Maybe there’s been a storm, if we’re lucky. If not, something has happened in the cosmos to mask the sun. The humidity seems to have receded as well. The droopy plants have undrooped, their leaves reach up to the sky like supplicants. Still, it’s a good day to water, since the soon won’t suck up your effort right away, just in case…
Let us welcome the perfect day. You work in the garden, cutting back decaying leaves and stems, removing the old layers of spring-blooming plants, which have already had their season in the sun, the better to show off the new acts which now take the stage. The red bee balm, the hydrangea, the stella d’oro, and when they pass, the black-eyed susans. They do pass quickly.
On the perfect day you may also rest, trying out chairs and outdoor perspectives you haven’t used yet this year. Because while it’s a fine day to do things, anything really, it’s also the perfect day to do nothing. You’re not too hot or too cold. The wind doesn’t blow your papers away. The beverage tastes good. You have absolutely nothing planned.
Then there are the rainy days. Just enough of them to get tedious. Those tomatoes will really shoot up now, you tell yourself, when the sun ever shines again. Whenever is that going to happen?
The days that look different. The expanding colony of blue balloon-flowers steal the attention of the eye: something new under the sun. You have cut down faded blossoms and used up stems before, but then you said, Oh these were the June flowers. Now you are cutting back the day lilies. Aren’t these my July flowers? Has it all happened so quickly?
But it is not true that the season is done with you, or you with it. Headlines proclaim the news: Hot and Humid Weather Heading Our Way… Here comes the Heat Wave. July still has some cards to play.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Please don’t eat the flowers

I’m on a “low-residue diet.” What that means, basically, is do the opposite of everything else you’ve been trained to do. No fresh fruits or vegetables. No raw vegetables, only frozen, canned, or “well cooked” peeled vegetables like the pieces of carrot that show up in cans of chicken soup. No skins, seeds, or nuts. No dried fruit. Ripe banana only. Pasta made from refined flour… What kind of bread do you want? Whole wheat, of course. No, excuse me – how silly of me – make that white.
Well-cooked meat is okay. Actually I don’t eat that much meat, but when I do one thing I don’t want is “well-cooked.” How about hotdogs? Absolutely no hotdogs.
No whole grain cereals, such as real oatmeal.
But cake, pastry, ice cream? That’s fine. Chocolate, no. But ice cream, yes. How do you draw that line?
All that stuff that’s growing out back in the vegetable garden? Forget it. Just as things are getting good.
So now I tend the garden and pick greens and berries for Anne and Saul. (Full disclosure requires me to point out that Anne spends much of Saturday cooking blender soups such as carrot dill for me to eat all week.)
It’s raspberry time. We have lots of red and black raspberries this month. The bushes keep pushing out anything that’s growing near them and have probably smothered some of the strawberries underfoot, just as I warned, but in their season they are abundant and brightly colored and cheerful. Anne bakes a pie of at least four different kinds of berries, the black and red raspberries, mulberries from a tree in our yard, and some store-bought blueberries. It looks good enough to eat –
Sorry! And I quote, “No berries of any kind.”
It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world (that’s a quote too), when I have to eat only processed foods, and abjure the company of all things fresh and natural, in order to cure myself of a disease. Well, more exactly, to lower the unpleasant side effects from the radiation treatments to cure a disease.
These treatments are curiously timed to last through the fresh produce season. Corn on the cob? Don’t even think of it. Chunky tomato sauce? Salsa? It is to cry.
The tomatoes are getting big, though still green. Some sweet peppers are full size; some chilis need a few more sunny days to turn red. Zucchinis and cucumbers are on their way. Green beans to follow. We’ve picking leaf lettuce for months. Peas for a week. Somebody needs to do something with the cilantro.
It’s hard enough to give up recreational eating. When you can’t eat the healthy things growing in the backyard, you know that somewhere the universe is laughing at you.