We can learn a lot from trees. I first realized this after visiting the Survivor Tree at Ground Zero — and now, in the wake of Sandy, trees continue to teach me.
Take a look at this one. It’s a Bradford Pear — or, rather, what’s left of a Bradford Pear.
It was planted years ago, along with two others, by a local business interested in prettying up a very busy street corner. I remember when they were all planted. I was thrilled — at last, a business was taking an interest in beautifying the community.
Besides, at the time, the Bradford Pear was the tree of the moment, planted by towns and homeowners because of its flowering beauty, graceful shape, and instant shade ability. Their abundance in the landscape — both public and private — turned spring into a flowering tree extravaganza.
The trees planted by this business did what they were expected to do — especially on hot summer days when residents huddled under their cool shade while waiting for the public bus.
But one by one, the trees have disappeared. One was badly damaged after being hit by a car. A second came down in a storm. Now, this is the sole survivor, and I know the story of each of its missing limbs — as if I am telling the tales of the scars on my own body.
This was an amazingly lazy weekend — the kind of weekend when, as a kid, I would lounge around all day and watch old science fiction films like Godzilla, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Children of the Damned. Today, though, with hundreds of channels from which to choose, there’s nothing to watch on television. But there is a new iPad staring at me.
There is a post to write, though. My first thought was to revisit the scene of “Bedazzled & Be-Blogged,” so I could show what a week’s worth of autumn did to those jewel-toned leaves — but a series of bare branches could hardly be included in a feature called “Bloomin’ Update.”
Just when I thought I didn’t have a postable idea, I think I heard the iPad whisper my name.
So to fill the indoor day, I went on a free app spree to look for games that might appeal to the gardener in me — and maybe even the gardener in you.
Very early last Thursday morning, at about 2:00 a.m., I saw my garden from a whole new perspective. I was wheeled out, backwards, on a gurney. Joe decided to call the ambulance when I told him that I felt pressure on my chest and had difficulty breathing. As a heart patient with 13 stents, that is definitely a scary feeling.
The good news in all this is that I am feeling better, although I am still in the hospital. My heart is strong, but the doctors do not understand how my healthy liver produced enough enzymes to prevent my blood from coagulating. So I am closely monitored and feeling antsy. Joe brought up the laptop, and here I sit. Writing.
It’s been kind of strange the past few days, to be in this hospital room and not be able to walk around the garden, upload photos, update this blog, and visit the sites of so many people I have met through this exercise. How have I passed the time, you ask?
It’s 8:00 am, and I have swept the walk to my door for the buh-zillionth time, thanks to the squirrels who are ransacking my oak tree for acorns.
They’re also not the neatest nor efficient of eaters. As I sweep, I notice there’s a lot of waste. Mixed in with shards of shells are whole acorns — perfect for tucking away into the nether regions of your cheeks. So I wonder, just what are the squirrels getting so squirrely about?
First, there is the coming winter. There is a belief that you can predict what sort of winter you will have by observing the nuttiness of the squirrel population. It’s as if they are our very own Farmers’ Almanac. If that’s the case, then we are in for an Arctic blast of snow, ice, and below-freezing temperatures — and judging by the acorn debris that is littering my walkway, we may never thaw out. Either that, or my yard will be buried
24 hours later: Not so much.
in an avalanche of acorn shells — Long Island’s very own Pompeii.
Second, I’m concerned about the frenzy. This particular squirrel colony is in hyperactive mode, running and racing up and down trunks, onto branches, nibbling here, nibbling there. The squirrels are not just eating acorns; they are stockpiling them like a cult of the-world-is-ending believers. If they are like this now, what will they be like in December 2012, the notorious date when the Aztecs predicted the world would really end. There may not be enough nuts to satisfy their craving.
Third, and I am completely serious here, I think the squirrels have declared war on us. This nut stuff is just the opening volley. At this time of year, I cannot even stand and have a conversation with my neighbor on the walkway. If I do, I will be
pelted by not only debris, but whole acorns, as well. In fact, I think they are intentionally hurling these whole acorns at me.
You think I’m kidding. Just listen to the sound of a whole acorn falling from the tree and hitting the roof of your car parked on the driveway. It’s like the acorn shot heard ’round the world — and I find it difficult to believe that the velocity is the result of gravity alone. There has to be some squirrel strength behind that acorn. Perhaps the squirrel soldiers have fashioned a sling shot in the upper branches of the tree. Then, “Ready. Aim. Fire.” And each time they hit me or the car, I swear I can hear them giggling.
What to do with my furry frenemies? Trap them and release them to another location? Nah. That only encourages replacements to take up their positions. Cut down the oak tree? Absolutely not. I
Come on, Squirrels. How about a day off?
love the tree more than I dislike the squirrels. For, now I will have to be contented with a broom and a hard hat — and if the neighbors think I’m the nut case . . . Well, we’ll just see who’ll be laughing when the squirrels chase us up into the trees.
In the meantime, a friend found an abandoned baby squirrel and is now rehabilitating it. In addition to sweeping the walkway, I offered to gather acorns to feed this foster squirrel. I must be nuts.
Around the corner from my house, a tree fell during Hurricane Irene, blocking the entire roadway. By fortune, the tree did not land on a car or a house or power lines. Had the wind shifted, had the break happened a little bit lower on the trunk, who knows what damage that tree could have caused.
Still, there is something sad about the loss of a tree. As I looked at the site, I was taken by not only the enormity of the tree, but also by its age. They say that by examining the rings of a tree, you can see the tree’s life, when it was a wet year or a dry year. But the rings certainly can’t tell you what that tree came to mean to so many people; rings cannot tell you what any tree means to any person.
Staring at the tree, I thought about the trees in my own life. There was the fir tree in the backyard, under which I would play with Matchbox cars and Tonka trucks, building roads so that a large root became an overpass. There was the maple tree in the front yard, which would ignite with fiery leaves each autumn. We would then rake the leaves into a huge pile and run and jump into the pile, or even have a leaf war with friends across the street. My friend Thomas had a tree that was perfect for climbing, giving young minds a wh0le new view of life in suburbia. My friend Bobby had a tree house, a simple platform high off the ground, a refuge from summer play and heat.
That was the first question Joe, my partner, asked me the other day. At first, I didn’t think anything was wrong, other than I felt a little sluggish and unmotivated to do anything. Then I looked at the calendar. August.
I’m quite conflicted when it comes to the 8th month of the year. I know it’s still summer, which I’m thrilled about, but inside I feel dread and sadness, as if the clock has begun ticking on the garden around me. And once that thought takes hold, all other melancholic ideas start to sprout. To put it simply, I’m summer saturated.
For starters, everything in the yard looks overgrown. The Sunflowers can’t stretch any higher, and they are so crowded and top heavy that they are all falling over at odd slants. The leaves on the trees are dull green. Most of the annuals look tired. The grass is burnt. The Hydrangea flower heads have started to fade away. Everything looks sloppy. My impulse is to go out there and rip everything out of the ground and start all over again with new seedlings. But that would be ridiculous. As it is, the days of these plants are already numbered.
Then there is the change in shadow. As the Earth and Sun have done their celestial dance on the way to the autumnal equinox, I have noticed that where there once was sun, there is now shade. Just ask the Gazanias. A week ago, they basked in hours and hours of summer sun. Now, the shadow of the house lingers a little longer over their bed.
And let’s not forget about the quiet changes in weather. While the days are still warm, nighttime temperatures have begun their subtle decline. On some mornings, I can smell the faintest whisp of fall in the air.
That is, perhaps, where most of my hostility toward August stems from: I know what’s coming. Leaves will start to change, tropicals will have to be dug and stored for the winter, terracotta pots will need to be cleaned and packed away, nights will become longer. I can practically feel Light Deprivation Disorder bubbling up.
I have done what every therapist and doctor advises people not to do. I have self-diagnosed, but let me first explain.
It’s summertime, and Joe and I are going on vacation for a few days. It’s a chance to relax, to get away from everything, to reconnect, to breathe. In actuality, though, the days leading up to departure mean a growing sense of unease and worry. I become consumed with obsessive thoughts, anxiety, and stress — and none of it comes from the what-to-pack, what-not-to-pack scenario, nor from the airport pat-down, nor from who will mind the dog and the cat, nor from the last-second question, “Did I remember to take my trusted Swiss army knife out of my carry-on?” No. For me, the physical-emotional symptoms stem from leaving my garden and entrusting its care to someone other than myself. I am now calling these symptoms Garden Separation Anxiety Disorder, also known as G-SAD, as in, “Gee, that’s sad.”
For all of my life, I have been a morning person. As a kid, I loved being the first person awake in the house — especially on a Saturday morning. That was prime television watching time, and I didn’t have to share the clicker. As an adult, my favorite morning is Sunday — it’s designed for pre-crowd food shopping, breakfast, a leisurely read of the newspaper, a crossword puzzle, and a nap — all before 11:00 a.m.
Drops of rainwater on an Elephant Ear leaf look like beads of liquid silver in this morning's light.
Now that I’m on summer vacation, mornings are even more special. You see, I love my garden in the morning — and there are some times when morning almost feels like a religious experience. The light is soft. The air is fresh. As the sun starts to warm the air, the dew evaporates, so that the few rays of light are like beams.
But it’s the human silence that I appreciate. For many of us, this is the closest we can come to feeling alone, as if we were the first person to set foot on this land. There are no lawnmowers revving. No cars and sounds of traffic. No voices. Just a non-stop soundtrack of songbirds — sparrows, robins, doves, cardinals — all stirring to greet the day alongside me.
Yes, the garden changes throughout the day, and volumes of poetry could be written about the garden and the play of light and shadows as the day goes on. I just think there is more of an intimacy in the morning. The plants seem to agree with me. They appear rested and alive and alert, as if they are determined to put on their best show.
This is the start of a very hectic week for me, so my writing time is limited. I hate when that happens, since writing is one way that I like to unwind from a busy day. In light of this, as well as the fact that I can’t figure out how to post a PowerPoint on the blog, I thought a walk around the yard and some photos would do me some good. Besides, it gives me a chance to play around with a different kind of post.
The truth is that this walk was an inventory of what still needs to be done. The beds are mulchless, and a weekend of rain and cool weather seems to have washed away most of the flowers and turned the lawn into a jungle. By the way, the cool weather was a bit of a shock, since last week was stifling hot. But that’s how the weather is on Long Island these days.
Nevertheless, the walk was a nice breather. And now, without further delay, are some photos of what’s blooming.
Here is Gazania (above), which I started from seed a few months ago. I was thrilled with the colors, and I’m looking forward for more of them to bloom.
This is a lace cap hydrangea (above). I picked it up a few years ago from Home Depot because it had red or burning in its name. To me, that meant it would have red flowers. In actuality, the branches have a hint of red. As you can see, it’s covered with blooms, but I’m never quite sure that I like it — since I was really hoping for red flowers. But when I see it covered with this:
then I have to admit that I love it. What’s especially nice is that as the flowers age, they seem to glow in the dark at night. It’s truly magical.
When I look at these photos, I’m stressed and relieved all at the same time. Stressed because there are those days and weeks when life takes us away from what we truly love and enjoy. Relieved because somehow, nature takes care of itself and it allows me time to stop and smell the roses.