I am not a fan of Halloween or horror, fear or fright. I like well-lit rooms, laughter, and sunlight. Creepy just isn’t for me.
If there’s snow falling on this WordPress blog, it must mean that it’s December — and since I’m in south Florida at the moment, I have a feeling these digital dots may be the closest I come to the white stuff this holiday season.
Take, for example, my recent trip to purchase a Christmas tree.
In recent weeks, large tents have popped up all over. It’s as if lots and lots of circuses have come to town. But under these big tops — necessary to protect the fresh trees from the heat of the sun — freshly bundled Christmas trees are lined up like soldiers, the smell of pine is everywhere, and Christmas carols play from the speakers.
It’s also 75 degrees — and I’m wearing shorts and sandals, which are a far cry from my typical bundled-up Christmas tree shopping gear, although I did add a sweatshirt to at least create the illusion that it’s chilly.
There are some words and phrases in the English language that completely baffle me. You might even say they are my phonetic foibles.
Awry is one of those words. When my eyes come across it in a sentence, my mind immediately wants to pronounce it as aw-ree. When I do, it’s followed by a momentary beat and I say to myself, “Oh, it’s uh-rye again.”
That’s fine if I’m reading quietly, but not if the word should make an appearance mid-paragraph if I were reading aloud. In that situation, I don’t think there’s such a thing as even a little-bit pregnant pause.
A new word joined the list just a few years ago. Quinoa. Sorry doesn’t seem to be the hardest word, Elton. Quinoa is. If I see it on a menu or in the grocery store, my first impulse is to say, kwin-o-uh — like it’s a summer camp on the shores of a Catskill lake. It never ever occurred to me to pronounce it as keen-wah.
Yesterday, I was humming Christmas carols. Today, my lyrics sound more like this:
“There’s got to be a morning after, if we can hold on through the night
We have a chance to find the sunshine; let’s keep on looking for the light.
Oh, can’t you see the morning after? It’s waiting right outside the storm.
Why don’t we cross the bridge together and find a place that’s safe and warm?”
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.
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
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
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.