I sat in my car in the driveway facing west toward the Oquirrh mountains, toward Tooele, toward where I have poured out my life’s energies to protect the little town. Dear God, I thought somewhat desperately, I am off into the world again to do my little part and to make my little contribution, and wondered if I could do this another day and another month and another year and feeling so tired. A tiny hummingbird swooped down deliberately and recklessly and precisely from over the tree canopy to hover at tall red penstemons, darting its beak into the flowers where I knew the tiny pink tongue was licking at nectar. If that little bird in this big big world can swoop down from the sky its tiny glorious fragility, maybe I can go forth another day after all. And I put the car in gear and rolled out of the driveway. Mom and Dad sat in their camp chairs in the driveway looking west to the sinking sun as I backed into my spot in the driveway after work. The day was a Wednesday, my weekly twelve-hour day. I sat with them and explained how I was investigating a discrimination allegation and preparing a new zoning ordinance and drafting a tricky contract, and how I would like their permission to call the home health company and express my disappointment in their brusque behavior, their dearth of skills training, their disappearance after two meager visits—but Mom and Dad did not want the fight. I have decided that I am not willing to fight battles they themselves do not want to fight and do not want me to fight—I opt to respect their opinions and their emotional energy—and I do not want to incur Dad’s displeasure, again. Besides, he had derived some benefit from the home health debacle: we purchased furniture risers that lifted the sofa three inches; we raised his recliners three inches with double two-by-fours; we now owned a sock aid (that he tried successfully with his biggest loosest pair of tall thick black socks), a long-handled shoe horn, a dressing stick for pulling on pants and shirts and pushing off socks and shoes, a new cane with a wide gripping foot, and grabbers for picking fallen objects up from the “no man’s land” of the floor. Now Dad just needs to practice—practice will bring expertise, which will bring greater independence. Mom had the tree service come, and I now looked toward the five decorative fruitless pear trees, in the spring gloriously green and full, now looking like corpses missing limbs. The trees would grow back with relish and beauty next spring, the man assured Mom and Mom now assured me. When I prune trees, I follow the rule of thirds: never prune more than one third of a tree at one time so as not to shock the tree. These trees now were missing half their limb length and 80 percent of their leaves, with the 100-degree heat wave still blasting in August. I hope they live. Dinner would be late again tonight. I feel so tired of cooking, and I only reluctantly voice the question, “What should we have for dinner tonight?” My vim for fancy French meals has vanished, though I bring them out once every month or two. The French menu has regressed to fish sticks and hash brown patties. Or grilled bratwurst. Or grocery store pot pies. Or chicken tenders. They all are tasty, and we enjoy them, but my waistline is growing for the lack of discipline and planning. At least I always add a green vegetable or two, and we are in season for corn on the cob. Winding down dinner at the kitchen table, I spy the male hummingbird on the feeder, his black head and black-bead eyes merging into his black needle beak, and I remembered that I can do this.
–Boogers are sticky!–
Dead and dying poplars stand along the ditch bank on Rabbit Lane, like sentries propped up against battles long ago lost and won. Many branches, devoid of leaves, poke absently out and up like ten thousand fingers on stubby arms. On the oldest, the only leaves huddle close to the trunk, near the base. Finches and sparrows hop happily amidst the morass for some purpose unknown to me, or for no purpose. Their nests lie hidden somewhere in dense bushes; no seeds or insects can be found in the spiky tree stubble. But safety from cats and falcons the branches certainly provide. Continue reading
A century ago, Erda’s church-going farmers planted a row of Cottonwood twigs behind the clay-block church building. A decade ago, a bald eagle stared down at me from one of these Cottonwood tree’s 50-foot height. Today, the Cottonwoods are gone, felled by my saw, replaced by the neighbor’s new barn. I can still see the majestic trees in family photos and in my memory as I walk home from Rabbit Lane, past Old Cottonwood, a 17-foot circumference behemoth. This poem is for that and the other great pioneer trees that sit split on our porches and burn in our stoves. (See the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog, Chapter 5: Old Cottonwood post, for more on Cottonwood trees.)
The old cottonwood is dead,
dead for many years.
Leaves have flown to join with new soil.
Sun-bleached bark has sloughed and fallen.
But the aspect of its reaching is preserved.
The trunk holds steady, the unseen roots entrenched.
A thousand branches reach sharply upwards,
spiny fingers feeling upwards,
still swaying, though stiffly.
Red-tailed Hawk still reconnoiters from a favorite high branch.
Great-horned Owl still softly calls its mate.
And Kestrel now rests in its cavities.
–Engage your mind or others will engage it for you.–
Cottonwood trees are the legacy of the departed farmer. Once mere twigs, they grew quickly to become giants of the valley landscape. The oldest Cottonwoods are slowly dying. Each Spring the emerging leaves draw in closer to the trunks, leaving more of the outstretched branches as bare as skeletons. More and more bark sloughs off, leaving the trunks to bleach in the Summer sun. Dead Cottonwood trees resemble the ruins of medieval cathedrals. The bare branches seem sculpted and shaped, like the flying buttresses that once supported a stone ceiling but that now lift up the ceiling of the sky. Continue reading