American Trees

Cayde is running soccer scrimmage in the front yard, somewhat imaginatively, because Daddy is unavailable while re-potting plants on the front porch.  Cayde plays against himself, personing two teams at once: the Cayde Team vs. the Gray Moles.  Surprisingly, the Gray Moles tend to score more goals and—endall—they take away the trophy.  I find this charitable on Cayde’s part—imaginary friends don’t often get the win.

I’m wrist-deep in soil and transplanting sedges and ornamentals.  Plants colored silver, lime, and merlot (that’s what the tabs say at least) make a sudden and complimentary pretty; meanwhile, Cayde’s phosphorescent soccer ball hopscotches off the sycamore tree, pinballing scattershot over surfaced roots, before escaping the lawn’s terracing and out into the street.  The ball rolls determinedly and Cayde watches from the shade of the sycamore.


Cayden is his own petit anarchie, but sometimes he abides by rules.  In this case: we don’t run into the street to retrieve soccer balls.  We rattle Daddy’s eardrums instead until Daddy resignedly puts down the potted germander and trots himself out onto the asphalt to collect the ball, wedged usually as it is beneath the tire of a dilapidated Corolla.

 This time, the ball stops against the opposite curb and–before I can wipe my hands off on the thighs of my jeans and jog down the stairs—a bicyclist rounds the corner and slow-spokes a halt in front the wayward soccer ball.

 The cyclist is matted—dirty even—and, this being North Park, one has to gauge whether or not the bicyclist, with his Pigpen aesthetic, is either fashioning an ideological choice or else showcasing some new irony.  I suppose he could just be dirty.  That’s possible.

The cyclist clicks to a halt in front of the soccer ball, and tripods awkwardly to palm it, bicycle tipped on the diagonal.

He throws the ball back to me.  “Thanks, Man,” I say.  He flashes a smile, yellow.  His beard is very much like the germander I’ve just potted in that it is twisted in knotted tendrils.

“You’ve got a good boy,” he replies.  “Stopping short of the curb like that. Figured you didn’t want him crossing the street.”  I agree out loud.  I like this guy. 

He rights himself and finds footing again on his pedals.  “That’s a beautiful tree, there,” he says in exeunt, pointing to the sycamore that is landmark in front of our house. 

“Isn’t it?”  I wave good-bye and flip the ball to Cayden.  Maybe the Gray Moles will score another goal.

The sycamore in front of our house is certainly a hundred years old. The house is, at least: a 1910 construction with original glass.  Glass that has—over time—shimmied down the panes in slo-liquid form.  The bottoms of the windows remain thicker than the tops and light eddies into the house unevenly.

(Glass is in fact a liquid: you can only know this after an amount of time has passed.  After a hundred years, a champagne flute will not be as pretty).

I guess the sycamore is as old as the windows.  The trunk is solid with edified scars and green offshoots. There are fungal growths, which—arrogantly—pretend threaten the tree before desiccating into mere scabs; the tree is resistant and it grows despite everything.  Currently, it’s a goal post: Cayde creates a soccer pitch out of the front lawn and the tree is kinduv in the way.  It can only be useful as a makeshift marker: “if you kick the ball past the tree, then you score a point.”

The sycamore has been injured by a number of arborists over a hundred years.  It is twisted and has grown back against itself.  Bruises from soccer balls are insignificant.  Cayde cuts it often with cleated feet.

Japanese horticulturists have a particular and damning critique of trees grown in the States.  “That’s an American tree” they sigh resignedly, in reference to centurion sycamores like the one that grows in my front yard.  Classic Japanese horticulturists meditate before cutting, measuring how auxins will inform new growth, and how tree branches might react in response to their particular surgeries. Japanese trees are perfectly formed; American trees, meanwhile, are wild and ill-grown.   This is something ideological, sure.

 Still: the bicyclist takes off down the street, and—even if confused—the sycamore stands beautiful and remains something of remark. 

My kid kicks the ball out-of-bounds again.  Onto pristine asphalt, flat and without fault.      








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