To the planter of trees

tree_lined_street_lgTwo of my frequent routes include an arcade of trees.  One is at an intersection I drive by every day, the other on 99E heading south towards Milwaukie.  Neither is very long – one just a block, the other maybe a quarter-mile.  But even in winter, when the branches are bare, the trees form this graceful archway that we drive through.

As I went though one the other day, I started wondering about the person or persons who planted those trees.  Were they young?  Did they see the fruits of their labor?  Did they measure carefully the space between the trees, imagining how far apart they needed to be so their branches could grow without touching?  Did they plant them hoping that in eighty years, one hundred years, the trees would still be alive, healthy, providing a bower for motorists?

It seems to me that planting trees is a pretty selfless act.  You may get to watch a sapling get strong, but you will likely not live to see it in its prime.  And planting trees is an act of hope, too – hope that someone else will take up the care of the tree, that in the future when the planter is gone someone will look at the tree and offer thanks.

We have two enormous oak trees on the west side of our house.  I imagine they were planted when the house was built in 1925.  They are now two and a half times as tall as our house, and they are beautiful, whether with bared branches or in the lush fullness of summer.  They are beautiful and more often than not I do not appreciate them.  February is the one time of the year when they aren’t dropping something.  Come spring, it will be helicopter seed pods, then green acorns in the summer.  In the fall the brown acorns drop, aided by feuding squirrels.  Once the acorns are done, the leaves turn brown and drift down; we are very generous and share our leaves with the neighborhood.  In the chill of winter things are still unless there’s a wind storm, in which case we have branches adorning our yard and roof.

laugh inI wish I appreciated our two oaks more than I do.  They provide habitat for squirrels, and I think the crows are doing their own version of Laugh In in them.  They shade half the house, a relief in the relentless sun of summer.  But they are messy and trimming them is not cheap.  Their root system means that we have a basement in only half the house.

Would I cut them down if I could? That’s the question, isn’t it.  It would make our lives and landscaping easier.  We wouldn’t have to wear our bike helmets when we dine al fresco.

Would I cut them down if I could? No.  No, I wouldn’t.  They are things of beauty, among the most grand in the neighborhood.  The crows make me laugh.  The squirrels drive the dog nuts and give him something to do when we’re gone for the day.  The shade is lovely.

And there’s something plain wrong about cutting down a magnificent healthy tree – the inconvenience to us is far outweighed by the patience it took for that tree to go, the hearty conversations with neighbors in the fall when we’re all raking the leaves, the sheer beauty of something that towers over our man-made home.

So, to the planter of trees, our oaks, the trees that line the avenues: thank you.  Thank you for your foresight.  Thank you for your dream.  Thank you for your part in creating something beautiful that maybe you never saw.  Thank you for the trees.

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A Different Valentine

no val“How glad the many millions of Timothy and Williams would be, to capture me;

But you showed such persistance, you wore down my resistance .  I fell, and it-

Blah blah blah.  Valentine’s Day is almost here, and once again, I confess I greet the day with a bit of indifference.  I’m really not much of a romantic, and if my beloved were to come home on the fourteenth with a dozen red roses and a heart-shaped box of chocolates, I would pretend to be delighted, but he knows me well enough to know that I would think it a waste of money to buy those things when they are marked up for a one day, over-commercialized holiday.

In fact, on the fourteenth, I will take my beloved to the airport in the morning so that he can fly eastward to attend the memorial service of a dear friend.  And that is way better than roses and chocolate.  I love roses and chocolate, but I love presence more.  There will probably be a card or two tucked into his backpack, maybe even some Moonstruck chocolate, but we won’t spend Valentine’s Day gazing with moon-eyes at each other over a bottle of wine.

When I was single, I hated Valentine’s Day.  There was no place for it in the life of this singleton.  All the commercials, the relentless aisles in the grocery store, the radio stations: they all conspired to remind me that I was a One on a day meant for Two.  Yes, my mom and a few friends would always send me a card, and I appreciated that.  But there was no way to escape the day.  I could go out with girlfriends, or stay at home with Ben and Jerry and Colin Firth, but it was a day whose end I always greeted with relief.

I’m married now, and that takes the pressure off although, truth be told, we usually haven’t done much on February 14.  But our child still loves Valentine’s Day, and she really, really wants us to celebrate as a family.  So I trot out the heart-shaped lights, and we make a heart-shaped pink cake to be eaten after a pink meal (steak for us, pink mac ‘n’ cheese for her, red peppers, strawberries, raspberries).  We spend arduous hours making Valentines for classmates, and for grandparents, and for single friends.  But I’m still ambivalent about the day, because I know there are a lot of Ones out there, and it’s a day advertised for Twos.

I wonder if there is a way to reclaim a bit of the holiness of the day.  It was (and still is) the feast day of St. Valentine, an early martyr.  Originally it was a day to commemorate the loving, selfless act of one person; might we recreate that sense some how? I have a friend who always donates blood on Valentine’s Day.  That’s loving and selfless.   Going to the memorial service of a dear friend is a loving act, and I am so glad my husband is doing that.  Surely there are other loving, selfless acts we might engage in that would honor the saint whose legend has spawned an unfortunate industry.

I’m tempted to buy all those heart-shaped boxes at the grocery store and hand them out to the guys sitting out in front of Peet’s, holding the cardboard signs.  I’m tempted to buy up roses and hand them out to the men and women working at the gas stations and grocery stores and the restaurants and the hospitals and the shelters and all those other places that don’t just close down.  I’m tempted to walk the halls of middle schools and tell all those poor, crushed souls that it gets better and everyone is a jerk in one way or another in junior high.

But I probably won’t.  Instead, I’ll take my husband to the airport, then I’ll help out at the party at school, then my child and I will do something special – get a pizza, and rent a movie, and call daddy and tell him we miss him and we love him.  I will call a couple of my single friends in an act of reclaiming that love is for Ones and Twos and Twelves and all of us.

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Keith Haring, Life of Christ Altarpiece