Plants are teachers. Their lessons are as subtle as their language; lesson that are easy to ignore if one isn’t mindful, and time moves so slowly for them, requests never seem urgent.
I felt the Liquid Ambers’ threats. Occasionally I would feel a slight shudder when I walked under them. I envisioned one or both crashing to the Earth. If that happened they would take out fences, smash windows, perhaps hurt animals, or gods-forbid – people. The Chinese Hackberry needed a trim, as did all the trees on this property, but I felt I had time. I made a decision. I would tend to this in January, after leaf fall. It was healthier for the trees.
The trees had another plan.
I was minding my own business when I received a call from a neighbor. “Have you eaten?” He often does this.
There have been times I forget about food. When he offers, I accept with deep gratitude because I am creative and become too caught up in whatever it is I do to deal with simple acts of three-dimensionality like eating.
That day I remembered. “I just ate,” I said.
“I’m bringing it over, anyway. You can reheat it later.”
I said, “Okay.”
Perhaps I should have refused him.
Since moving here less than two years ago, he has hated my trees. I am the crazy tree lady. For him, my yard is an eyesore. There are too many trees. When oxalis and three-corner leaks spread underneath the trees in the spring, the yard looks wild and unkempt. He hates the seedpods that the Ambers drop. Leaf fall upsets him. The trees obstruct his view of the corner above us. But, what he really hates is the shade in his yard. He worries it will kill his grass. There hasn’t been a single time that we have spoken across the fence that he hasn’t complained about my trees. Usually, it seems like banter, a conversation opener, a place to meet in the middle.
However, that day when he brought over the food, he very cautiously informed me that he had called a tree specialist to get a diagnosis for my Chinese Hackberry. It was very sick and needed to come down before it killed somebody.
I was puzzled and said, “My arborist didn’t notice that. Why wouldn’t he tell me that?”
I then explained to him my worry about the Liquid Ambers. They are fragile trees and have grown quite tall, but arborists don’t like to trim them because it makes them weaker. “I plan to deal with them in January.”
“Well that front tree is very sick. It has ants.”
Around here, all trees have ants. “I think my arborist would have told me if there was a problem,” I said.
“I knew you would be like this. You are so irresponsible.”
“Why do you have to be such an immature baby about this?”
Ego raised one eyebrow.
It suddenly occurred to me that this had been a plan before he bought the house next to mine. He intended to get rid of the tall, offensively shading trees next door. Wow! Was it possible he shared food with me so that he could wear me down? Was he thinking I now owed him? Did he expect I would cut my trees for him because he had fed me so often?
Ego insisted, “Give the food back. Right now!”
I tried. It was sad letting go of Nori sprinkled rice with pickled plums, but I pushed the dish toward him.
He backed away. “Just take it,” he shouted. “Take it.”
My mistake occurred when I said, “Oh, I see now. This was a plan. Well it works for you, doesn’t it? You have wanted this since you moved in.”
The instant the words left my mouth, I felt my mistake.
He retorted, “My house isn’t made of cardboard. It will be expensive to rebuild, and I will be suing for it.” As an afterthought he added, “It will be way more money than you have.”
Ego snapped. An avenging tree angel took over my voice. I have no idea what it said, but I know it called him out.
“I knew it,” he said as he stormed back toward his house. “You are crazy. God-damned fucking crazy.”
I felt crazy.
Shaking and dazed, I called my tree specialist. He came that evening.
“This is probably the healthiest Hackberry I have ever seen,” he said.
I knew this but…, “I need proof. Something in writing from an expert that says my tree is healthy.”
“Who are you doing this for?” he asked.
“My neighbor wants to sue me.”
He shook his head, but he called in another specialist who came later that night who confirmed what we all knew. My tree was healthy. If I wanted to trim it, I didn’t have to wait until leaf fall. He understood my misgivings about the Ambers. He said they could wait until leaf fall, or come down right now. Either way, I was right, Ambers in general weren’t suited for this climate or in such close proximity to houses.
Would my neighbor approach the City with a complaint about my trees while I waited for leaf fall? Would I have to take them all down? Would the unprecedented heat of California cause some unforeseen disaster? “Will you write a report? I need to protect myself,” I said.
He had to drive to the Bay Area that night, but he promised to write and send it when he arrived.
I received it that night.
Two weeks later, my Ambers felled and Hackberry severely trimmed, acts that bring pain and tears even today, the neighbor had the nerve to write me a thank you letter for fixing my trees for him.
Ego awakened again and said, “Shit.”
How does one shut up inner dialog when every step onto the front porch reminds my poor little Ego that it no longer has the protection of three loyal trees? How can I stop anger when I see my burned roses, and dead blackberry vines no longer sheltered from the brutal sun? How can I stop the tears as I watch my generous fig tree that has lived its life as understory burn away in the heat?
A few nights after that tragedy, I went to my weekly meeting with the Women Writers of the Well. Driving there, I promised myself I wouldn’t write about this event. It was time to let go.
Who was I kidding? I couldn’t find equilibrium. I didn’t know who I had turned into that day. What kind of person blindly lashes out after downloading information that should have remained a hidden knowing? I wish I could have quelled his fears instead of adding to the insanity of his accusations.
Then, one of the writers shared this prompt: a big hole.
A door opened. My pen flew across the page.
I picked up Ego, along with Anger and threw them into a big hole. I watched them fall, until darkness sucked them up.
Like all things, Valarie, they didn’t stay in that deep oblivion. As I turned, Anger grabbed me.
“Fix this,” it growled.
“No,” I said, fully prepared to kick whatever crawled out of that hole back into its depths.
“Where is this going?” Ego pleaded.
“Back into the hole, with you,” I shouted, pointing an angry finger.
Shaking my head, I stormed off. Sometimes it’s best to turn your back on a thing.
As if reading my mind, it shouted, “Not true. I’ve always been there for you. You need someone to protect you, guard against that world out there that doesn’t understand.”
I flashed a middle finger at it. “I can protect myself. I make good decisions. I don’t need anybody telling me how to run my life. I have rights, you know. I deserve to be free of the likes of you.”
“Oooh. And you’re gone,” I said, shoving at it, hard enough to knock it back into the big hole.
It wouldn’t stay there. I knew better than to expect that, but I didn’t want to listen anymore.
“You need me,” I heard it shout from a deep, deep place. It wasn’t going to leave me alone until I grappled with it.
“Dammit!” I hate when Ego whines like that.
Sometimes it is hard to see a train wreck coming. Sometimes we can’t step out of the way. So, here I stand in front of the computer, grappling with the story I started during a writer’s meeting a few weeks ago; writing and rewriting, wondering if it will ever be smooth enough for a blog. Time will tell.
In the meantime, does anyone have a shovel I can borrow?
2 thoughts on “A Big Hole”
Yes it’s good 😊