Sunday, January 4, 2009

the trees

I liquidated my anxieties, thumbed my rosary beads, burnt a votive, and nothing happened. Selective attention and self-fulfilling prophecy: aren’t they a little like Tweedledee & Tweedledum, with their exasperating agreement to never disagree? Well, this is the time of year that Carroll’s comedic duo haunts my home. Each winter, I twist and wring out all this negativity bandying about in my brain; a pablum puddle of stress and insecurity and unfettered fretfulness I offer as a little sacrifice…a little reassurance, that the trees will not fall on my house. Because nothing bad will happen if I put pay to it; because nothing good ever happened if I didn’t lance an ounce of flesh.

It isn’t like, one year I decided to become fearful of the trees in my yard. It started with the last prolonged snow storm. The branches of the trees were weighted with snow; a spike in the temperature the next day was followed by freezing temperatures that night that turned the pine’s beautiful white coat into a cumbersome armor. A little after midnight, the branches began falling. The first one took out the corner of the garage, and as I was out to investigate, neighbors from up the street were standing in the alley way: the crack on breaking, the landing on the garage, was enough to rouse them. I assured them everything was okay, no one was hurt. What else could I do at that moment? I drew a mental geometry in my head, figured if a tree fell it would fall short of their home, and wrote them off as saintly for their concern.

But that was only the beginning; the next twelve hours brought eight additional branches giving up the ghost. Sometime in the wee hours, M abandoned the master bedroom for the living room sofa – putting a little distance outside of the trees’ canopy. I slept alone, each new thud interrupting my R.E.M. with a fire crack and jump starting my heart rate with a defillibrating pop. I don’t have many regrets, but I definitely regret sticking it out in this manner, I carry some second-guesses over thumbing my nose at Mother Nature by standing pat and pretending there was nothing to fear. Ask any Scientologist: the subconscious is no place to make a stand, and mine took a beating that night…by trying to sleep through trauma, I put out the welcome matt for engrams galore. When I awoke the next day, there was a mish-mash of large branches that in one place came to my waist; by the time I had cut and de-branched, I had a mass that could fill an entire room.

None of the aforementioned is news to people I know. If you know me slightly; if you have seen my home, I have mentioned the trees. You know I live in fear of them. It is a tentative, peaceful cease-fire…I don’t want them to disappear, but each windstorm announces a new political unrest. If you haven’t seen them: they are two majestic pines that loom over my tiny, 1000 sq. foot shack. There are two more trees in my neighbor’s yard, one of which is a ponderosa pine whose needles seem to fall only in my yard. I’ve cursed at all four of them since my first year here, when I spent the fall raking pine needles out of my dead lawn; a lawn killed by their acidic injections. I could never resolve what to do with them. On the one hand, they were a bonus when I bought the house. Look in any direction, and you will not see trees so tall. There are four of them, so they have an interlocking root system. I simply didn’t see the downsides when I bought the home; I didn’t grasp the amount of maintenance. And I didn’t know we would come to this contention where I would be on the losing side.

Up until the snowstorm, I had never conceived of an entire tree falling. It’s something that just doesn’t happen, right? But I read about it in the papers. Roads are closed because a tree fell. Electricity is lost because a branch took out the wires. I would try and determine what kind of tree it was, how old it was, what kind of conditions made such a thing possible. Part of the reason I tell everyone about the trees, is simply to get some reassurance. I want people to tell me that these pines look healthy, that we get enough water that their roots are strong and they would never give entirely.

The last several years have been difficult. Simply knowing that a windstorm is coming fills me with dread. The trees have become a strange Achilles Heel, a chink in my normally stoic posture. I have given so much power to them, and when the winds kick up they affirm it with a mean-spirited validation. I lay supine and jet awake at night, imagining escape plans should the greatest crack resound…while they assert themselves in a fanning fury, reminding me there was a time when people believed it was the trees that made the wind. It is a primal instinct and short stone’s throw from animism, but they make a convincing case: my heart rate accelerates – sometimes pull me from my sleep – as their flailing tantrum is thrown above me.

I know it is illogical, but I cannot have them cut down.

Despite the inconvenience of maintaining them. Despite knowing I’ll never have a beautiful lawn. Despite knowing that a well-placed lightning strike could destroy my house; even knowing I’ve wasted so much anxiety and stress should the worst never happen.

Part of it is the novelty – I look about me and see that I’m a rare custodian for what many people would see as a developmental inconvenience. It hearkens back to the first time I walked through this empty house and looked up between the trees’ interlocking branches and felt a full heart and reverent awe. I’m wary what would be the outcome from amputating the x-factor in a personal pride. Also, as ashamed as I am that I’ve developed this insecurity about the trees, it too has become a part of me…it is as though, in lieu of having a god to be illogical over, the trees have stepped in as my personal absurd recourse (and discourse).

There is one other reason.

I believe we roll over peaks and valleys, that nothing is ever all-up or all-down. And the trees might challenge me the year round, but this intense aggravation is bookended in the harshest winter. I know it is coming, I can brace myself for it, and there is a familiarity to my anxiety: I know how to deal with it, I’ve exhausted my imagination playing the terrifying scenarios over and over again in my mind, and I guess…if the worst happened, I’d like to think my body would react accordingly.

Then spring comes. It only happens several days through the season, but as I come home from work, a full block from my home, I hear a sound competing with the car traffic. I’m always impressed with the ruckus the returning birds can kick up, surprised that I can hear it from so far. I begin to walk a little slowly, taking in the moment: hundreds of birds converge in the trees; finches and sparrows and some I’ve never been able to classify. By the time I’ve reached my front steps, it is like a sheet of white noise…only it is a cacophony of individual chirping, an orchestral rehearsal. And I tell myself, this is my home. It is a wonderful end to a work day; I usually grab a chair and set myself below them, below the spring blue sky. It is chaotic and joyful at the same time, and I want them to go on and never end but I know this is only their rest stop and they are bound to move on. But it isn’t lost on me: it’s no longer just about me and the trees. And I feel pretty lucky, knowing I’m custodian for these tiny beings as well, believing that each year they identify my home and my trees as their rest stop.


Snotty McSnotterson said...

I love your writing. Also: trees.

Marko said...

You write very well...sometimes I wish I could write as much as you.

The weather here has been pretty insane.

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