Trees and Bark

The flowers on my new dogwood tree.

There are other things that are happening that are not, technically, the remodel, but are still part of the rehabilitation of the homestead. The remodel is of the house. It’s of plaster and wiring, and composite quartz, and plumbing and fixtures, and windows and siding, and cabinets and paint. And floors.

There are other projects that are happening simultaneously. These projects are of improvement, but not necessarily coordinated. These things, like blob removal, have also been on the list. It is just now happening. It’s happenstance, the confluence of projects, that is.

The city has an amazing program that makes it easy to have rain barrels installed, to install landscaping with native flowers and grasses and to plant trees.

When we first moved here, the back of the lot was lined with old, Ent-like monsters, circling our yard, standing tall with branches full of green leaves. Some of the specimens stretched sixty or eighty feet into the sky. Birds during the day and bats at dusk would fly from one to another, taking their bug meals to-go.

Some of the rough gray and black trunks became incased in ivy. The invasive thick green tendrils would crawl up the tree and fool us into thinking that the tree was healthy. Fortunately, only one of the big trees fell during a storm. But many others became sick one distressed branch the size of a canoe at a time. The neigbhors began to take them down before they collapsed on a roof of a house or a car.

One neighbor took down a healthy tree. We were mad about that, but he hates nature anyway. You can tell by the astroturf that is his yard. And the white stones that fill the tree box that the city owns in front of his house. At least there’s a tree there. Yay community spaces.

When my first dog ever died, The Spouse buried that fluffy yellow beast in the back of our lot. It’s actually allowed–even in the city. And I wanted a dogwood as a remembrance. And, as is my way, I thought about it much more than I acted upon it.

The city program is designed to stop stormwater runoff to the Bay and to restore the tree canopy for the birds and the bees and the bats and the beauty. When the city said that they would bring in and plant shade trees, I scoured the list of tree types. Yes! They offered flowering trees, too. Two more years passed before we finally got our assessment.

Two rain barrels, landscaping and four trees. And one could be a dogwood.

The friendly team from Casey’s Trees planted the trees last week on a Friday. They put a white birch with the curly bark where the blob was. They dug holes in the backyard to install a white oak and a red maple along the fence line and a sweet dogwood to the right of the garage. I dutifully watered my new charges and watched the buds form and begin to unfurl almost like a time-lapse on the National Geographic channel.

This week, a mere few days after planting, the dogwood bloomed. It displayed the creamy white petals filled with little green candies on up-stretched branches that look, to me at least, as if the tree is offering itself to me.

And I am grateful. Woof!

The Blob

Our front yard started with a big honking For Sale sign (which I had The Spouse rip out of the ground as soon as we closed on the house because I didn’t want to give that idiot realtor even one second of advertisement) and a little bit of landscaping. There were two or three hostas, a few mounds of Sweet William and a small boxwood. The shrubbery was about two feet square and maybe eighteen inches tall.

Over the years the boxwood grew. The Spouse had a dull set of clippers he’d use to keep it in shape, but the plant was sneaky. It would always grow a little more than he trimmed. Slowly, it crowded out the hostas. It grew tall and wide, deep green and bushy. Grew being the key word.

I’m not sure when I started calling it The Blob. Maybe it was when I noticed that the hostas had been swallowed up.  The porch might have been next. But The Spouse was confident that he could control the creature. I was less certain. I didn’t like it. No, I did not like it one bit.

The Blob soon engulfed the entire front yard. There was a very narrow path, less than a little trail’s worth, around it. The Blob grew taller than me. Eventually it became impossible to reach to trim the middle of the monster. It overtook the view from the picture window in the toy room. Porch sitters were hidden from sidewalk strollers. Feral cats, raccoons, oppossums and flesh eating spiders (I’m less sure about this last one) lurked in and around it.

My dislike for this thing, this Blob, grew along with it.

Last winter–when we had a real winter with cold weather and snow–the Beast went mad when we stepped off of the porch. There was a few inches of snow on the ground. He furiously sniffed near the Blob and suddenly bolted. There was something loitering behind that stupid Blob. I was on the ground and he dragged me  to the back of the Blob. I was screaming “STOP,” punctuated by short, guttural words that rhymed with truck.

The Blob didn’t eat me, but it could have. I was about ready to sacrifice the Beast to the monster. Instead the Beast, surprised to see me on the ground and in the snow, thought it was a game. I did not find it entertaining. No, not one bit.

Once, in the Spring, I saw a trio of little sparrows that were being chased by the neighborhood hawk fly into the sanctuary of its boughs. And then there were the nests and little eggs that sheltered in the arms of its nursery.

Still, it had to go. Since it was beautiful and healthy, someone said that it was valuable. I tried to give it away. There were a few window shoppers. They looked underneath its branches and were shocked to see that it grew from a one root, a single specimen.  Unfortunately, nobody could figure out how to get it out.  Well, one guy said he’d need a crane. No takers.

So today, Julio and his crew came by. In less than thirty minutes, it was gone. Twenty-five years of growth disappeared in less time than a lunch break. Bye Blob. It was you or the yard. I really won’t miss you, but I am still sad to see you go. Funny how you can have both of those feelings at once.

The spot is readied for a birch tree, with that beautiful smooth gray-white bark. The tree will contribute to the replenishment of the city’s tree canopy. It’s native and helps with the water table. It’ll shade the front of the house, host some nests and allow space for ground greenery.

I’m thinking hostas. Maybe some Sweet William. Nothing invasive though. We know where that leads.

What Time Is It?

Part of a clock. An older clock. With Roman numerals.

Today is the birthday of The Beast, which means that it’s eight weeks until Christmas. I know this because he was eight weeks old when we got him, that date of arrival being the day after Christmas. It’s not complex math, but it is math nonetheless.

Birthdays are markers of time. What is it that makes an anniversary important? That one-year mark? Why do we track them? And celebrate them? Or, in the case of sad anniversaries, sometimes we simply note them. But we’re just acknowledging another rotation of the earth around the sun. And something that happened on that exact day in a prior rotation. Put that way, I’m like, “Why do I care?”

I’m not so good with time. I can only remember the year my father passed away based on the fact that I broke my foot at the end of that year. And I only know the year I broke my foot because I walked for two and a half miles to go see then Senator Obama’s speech at American University. It was the day that Ted Kennedy endorsed him. That was for 2008 election. I remember because my physical therapist said that I was cured after he found out I walked that far. It was slow, but I did it.

So time for me is related to events, and how those events relate to something else I can pin a date to. I need to do some kind of backwards, inside out calculations. With an abacus. I only know how old I am only because I know how old the Big Guy is, and then I add thirty. As soon as I lose track of his age, I won’t know how old I am.

It took me about fourteen years before I could remember the year we were married. It was amusing at first, but then became embarrassing. So I had to work really hard to remember the actual numbers–without backing into it. Sometimes I still forget.

I am amazed and impressed that ancient peoples created calendars to mark the comings and goings of time. They figured it out and made events and myths about the named epochs–which we call years. Maybe they were driven by preparations for different seasons. But that story only makes sense if you live in a part of the world with seasons. I bet I could study this.

Anyway, they say that a dog year is equivalent to seven human years. And that is DEFINITELY a ridiculous concept of time. I still got The Beast a special treat. And I sang him happy birthday and told him he was a good dog. He didn’t really care about the date. But he ate the treat. Woof!

Motion, less

The Beast looks outside through the window with a bouquet and vase next to him.

What is still?

The Beast poked his head out the open window. There was no glass. There was no screen. There was only a frame for him to rest his head and stick his snout out into the world. There was no barrier between him and the outside.

He sniffed left and right without moving his big, block head. He raised his nostrils one and then the other from the tip of his scent-hound muzzle. He investigated that which was happening downwind, but, the concentration of smells rode the jetstream of air from the north. There was some mowed grass and a hint of the shampoo from the damp hair of the mom jogging by and pushing a massive three wheeled stroller. He was able to also pick out her warmed deodorant.

There was the delicious aroma of whatever was happening in the compost bin. There was some funk and some sweet and some sharp and some fire. It had rained most of the weekend and there was some leftover dampness–wet dirt, wet grass and those mushrooms that just appeared out of nowhere.

The rose bush was blooming one more time, but the sweet fresh fragrance was overshadowed by the base muskiness of the mums that were brought home to brighten the front yard. He smelled both, though.

The flies buzzed around his head and out the open window into the cool air. One or two tried to fly back into the warm house, but were caught in the heat-cold exchange and pushed back out.

The Beast’s head rested on the windowsill next to a vase of fading flowers. It was a beautiful still life, colored by the late morning sun streaming into the dining room. But this was no inanimate subject matter. There was hundreds of small movements happening, all at once.

Tar Baby

Nice, calm dog at rest. His name is Pancho. He's a hound.

So, on this one morning this week I find myself in the shade of an ancient pine, knocked down on my ass with my legs splayed in the air and speaking both loudly and bluely. How’d I get here?

School has started, even thought it’s before Labor Day, which simply makes me twitch since there should be more play for kids, but I digress.

When school starts, even when you aren’t going to school, even when nobody who lives with you is going to school, it seems like a new beginning. Some people think that spring is the beginning. It’s not. It’s the end of winter. When school starts, you turn a page. And you get new shoes.

In that spirit of freshness, despite desperately needing to see my colorist, I selected to be super-fresh. A little bit of bronzer across the bridge of my nose and swept along my cheeks. A dab of silver-white color at the inner eye. A pinky brown lipstick. And an office-appropriate little black dress with a sweet patent and fabric flat. The sun was shining from the dawn side, the air wasn’t burdened with water and there was enough breeze to ruffle hair.

I wrapped the pinch collar around The Beast’s thick neck and clipped on his leash. We were going to make a quick business stroll before I headed off to work. It was a morning that made you say the word, “fabulous.”

I won’t lie. I was feeling cute as I walked down our slate walkway and exited past the white picket fence to the sidewalk. The Beast was feeling the day, too. He looked up at me and wasn’t even sad that I had no pockets for treats. It was an excursion and a constitutional. And it was mostly a morning that made you look.

Turning the corner I saw the water crew. There was blocked sidewalk and men with hardhats. I don’t care that they weren’t actually looking at my saunter, because I knew that I was worth a look, with my ready-for-prime-time outfit and my hulking companion walking like a show dog on my loose lead. I turned the next corner feeling a preposterous level of confidence. Nay, cheek. In fact, hubris. As I would soon see.

Walking along at a quick clip, I checked my partner as we walked toward the place where he could see his nemesis, the train. I had his attention. We were just going to round this block. Then a big white panel van appeared.

Now this was, frankly, ridiculous. It is a known fact that he hates the postal truck. It is also known that he can recognize the U.S. Postal Service logo. The blue one with the stylized eagle. We know this because he gives a look to the FedEx truck and seeing the purple and orange letters loses interest. The PeaPod truck, also a big white boxy vehicle, only holds his tension until he sees the guy holding the grocery bag and reads the words PeaPod. Seriously, I actually believe that he can read.

But, this morning, this morning full of long strides, and spirit, and self-assurance and sunny skies, was interrupted by the white van carrying linens to the neighborhood bar & kitchen. As it turned the corner towards us, The Beast let out his full-throated bellow and pulled toward the street. Unhappy, but unsurprised, I planted my legs, pulled my arms closer to my chest and held the leather strap tight.

That’s when it happened.

The Beast and I were facing the street and the oncoming sketchy (only to him) truck, when from behind this likely certifiably insane cat pounced on the dog. Yeah. This stupid less than ten pound orange and white mange of fluff flies through the air like some ninja Garfield to ambush The Beast. It was pissed. And hissed.

The Beast reeled to his left to see this strange apricot creature filled with bloodlust. He immediately backed away with a genuine WTF look through his eyes and brow. And the friggin’, frightful feline came at him, again. As The Beast worked on his dodge and parry I became tangled up and was deposited without fanfare on my ass.

Be assured, however, that I was not passive during the attack. I was shocked and then angry. I expressed my displeasure at the cat in a verbal manner with much volume and many words that the two-year-old girl across the street should not be familiar with. As if the cat knew my words–most of which rhymed with truck, like “muthatruck,” “stupid truck,” and “what the truck?”–were threatening. But know this, Loyal Reader, they were said in a most aggressive and bellicose fashion.

The cat did not care.

The cat did not care that I was kicking at him and that I landed a foot. The cat did not care that the dog was eight to ten times his size with a mouth that could dispense with him in a minute. The cat just kept coming with back arched and teeth bared and a literal hissy fit.

I detangled myself from the leash and the dog trying to do the right thing by not responding to violence in kind and the maniac cat asserting and reasserting himself in his crazed territorial defense. I verbally expressed my disapproval in the most ineffective way possible as I pulled The Beast away from the attacking critter. And the cat kept on coming at him. Until we crossed the street.

There was something gross on my palm. It was sticky. I put my hand to my scrunched nose (really, who wanted to know what that was) to smell the pine. Pine tar. Another deposit of pine tar on my scraped elbow. I looked down at my bleeding feet, most likely from the dog stepping, but maybe a cat scratch, too. I was breathing fast and heavy. And my black dress, that I was going to top with a black and white checked jacket for the office? The entire back of it was coated in pine tar. Time for this morning’s second shower.

And that’s what you get when you think you’re cute.

Kittehzzelz and The Beast

It was a stunning morning. Cool without chill. Sunny without blaze. Perfect for a stroll, not just for business but for pleasure, too.

We walked past the Bobcat front loader at the end of the street. The Beast examined it with his snout and sprayed towards it with his leg lifted. We turned the corner.

The windows on the first floor apartment were open, letting in the day. They let out a tinny sound from a radio. I think it was smooth jazz.

We approached the end of the block, then what to our wondering eyes did appear? A Pokémon. In the wild.

Fortunately The Beast was nonplussed, even when it jumped up and down. Even when it was beating its wings. It was as if he didn’t see it. I held his lead tight as I captured the flapping bird. We were safe.

I don’t know much about our current infestation of these pocket monsters, except we’re supposed to catch them all. It didn’t appear, however, that The Beast would be of much use. I wondered whose side he was on. Still, I was grateful that he didn’t lunge at it as I really prefer my arms snug in my shoulder sockets.

We turned the corner heading toward the tracks. I did a mini face-palm when I realized I did not have any bribes–I mean treats–in my pocket. I usually put one in my hand as we approach where the train might appear. The damn dog can get downright ornery, barking and pulling and stepping on my feet and forcing me to step out of my shoes. The idea is to offer a treat as a distraction. Not that they do any good. It’s more so I feel like I can do something. It’s all an illusion.

We turned the next corner, heading closer to home. The walk had become blissfully uneventful. We walked past the treehouse where The Beast’s buddies lived. There was a panoply of water hazards in the yard: a small blow-up baby pool, a large blow-up big kids pool and a water table with little buckets, cups and spoons.There was a huge old tree that provided shade for the hazard takers. There were no hazard takers or dogs in sight, though.

We crossed the street to the house that has the huge side lot. The grass was freshly cut. It was cropped like Howie Long’s flattop, where it looks thick and lush for its exacting trim. I saw them first. The wild kittehzzelz.*

It was weird that my phone didn’t vibrate as we approached these mini-monsters. There were two kittehzzelz. One was gray and white and the other was orange. They were stretched out on the lawn enjoying the cool shade as it’d be a few hours before the sun made it over the house. As we approached, they flipped onto their bellies in unison. Their heads swiveled as one toward us. The Beast noticed these Pokémon in the wild. I knew because he was pulling me in their direction.

I planted my left leg as far away as I could and lunged or maybe lurched, literally dragging the dog. I gave a quick check to his collar. He took a step toward me. I decided to maintain speed and direction away from these creatures of interest. I didn’t have a tool to capture and dispose of them.

The Beast disagreed with me. He was trying to head to the kittehzzelz nest. I put my head down and squared my shoulder as I attempted a long stride away. He usually falls in line, but not this morning. Not only was he being civilly disobedient, but he was turned in the direction of opposition.

I yanked and dragged. He wasn’t budging. This was becoming very annoying. I tugged harder. So did he. He was intent on staying put. I turned around. I was shocked to see a crazy orange kittehzzelz almost nose to nose with the dog. The Beast was more curious than anything. Usually smaller creatures run away from his dangerous heft. Not this kittehzzelz. I’m like, is this thing rabid? Where’s its sense of danger? Then it happened.

The kittehzzelz was evolving from a medium sized ball of fluff to a more ferocious self. A kittehbobcat, maybe. It made itself much bigger. It changed its shape to increase it’s  girth by arching its  back. Its eyes were about twice the size of a minute ago. It spit, too.

I was all like, why the hell are you compelled to come up to my dog and get aggressive? I didn’t have a pokeball or anything–not even a treat–to throw at it. So I yelled at it. I was getting worried. I needed to get to work and I didn’t feel like pulling a vicious, rabid kittehbobcat off of my dog. And this vicious kittehbobcat sure seemed like it was ready to attack. Really. I am not making this up.

I threw my entire weight into pulling The Beast away from the mesmerizing monster. I dug my feet into the sidewalk to gain traction. I inched The Beast away, and the vicious kittehbobcat took two steps closer. Using my outside voice, I called it a mean cat. It spit again. The Beast let go of his protest and moved with me. He was still facing the vicious kittehbobcat, but at least he was now backing away. The kittehbobcat stood it’s ground and hissed and sprayed.

The Beast begrudgingly moved with me, but still had two eyes trained on the orange monster. I followed his gaze to see the vicious kittehbobcat turn, mockingly lift its tail and trot back to its companion. That one got away.

_____________________________

* Loyal Reader, do NOT, tear apart your pokedeck trying to find this mythical creature. I think The Beast found the only one. Also, I made up this name.

Sizing Up

Castle gate and wall. Imposing, no?

When I was a wee Doc we lived in The Old House. The house wasn’t especially old, but we called it The Old House to differentiate it from The New House. We moved to the new house just before My Older Sibling started kindergarten.

The New House was fully and completely new. It stood on what had been a part of a good-sized dairy farm that was subdivided into new blocks of varying sizes with twisty roads, half circles and a few cul-de-sacs. There were two very tall and very impressive trees. They were like Ents. The rest of the greenery was new sod and very young, very slow growing trees. When I left for college they barely provided shade.

The Old House, on the other hand, was surrounded by big old trees in the front and in the back. Indeed, the entire street was protected by limbs stretching and trying to touch their brethren across the street. Dappled gold and bursts of saffron would sneak through the small breaks in the big green canopy like specks of amber in hazel eyes. Closing my own, I can still see it, and feel it.

There were two very frightening things on the street with The Old House. First, the bees.

We were terrified of the bees. Someone told us that if they saw you move, they’d come after you and sting you. They were huge bees, the size of golf balls. No. Tennis balls. They would buzz back and forth among the flowers of the old lady down the street. We called her grandma. Her flowers were lovely, except for the bees that hung in front of the flowers. They looked like they were on wires that someone would occasionally move–either a small jerky up and down motion or a smoother left to right. We would spy them and very carefully, silently and slowly, holding our breaths, walk past grandma’s house.

Aa soon as we passed her property line we’d explode like a pinball out of the chute to our friend’s porch to play. I remember a bunch of cement steps to her porch. It was dark and cool, likely from one of those ancient elms. I don’t remember what we played, though. I think we launched ourselves off the steps.

The other terror was another neighbor’s dog. It would bark in a vicious manner. It was very loud. It’d throw itself against the fence to try and break through while full of snarl and howl to intimidate us as we walked by. And that monstrous dog was on the other side of the street. He really didn’t have to go to all that trouble. We weren’t allowed to cross the street.

One day I was walking back home by myself and the dog was banging against the fence. I was spying for bees and looking back over my shoulder across the street to see him break through. There was no worry and creeping past the bees. I took off as fast as I could to my house. The dog was gaining on me as I ran up the driveway through our open gate. I used all my strength to push the chain link gate closed, and it latched just as Cujo bashed into it. I lay on the ground for a second, catching my breath and watching the insane tirade of the evil dog. Worried he’d force himself through my barrier, I ran around the side of the house to the door and pushed my way to safety.

I was four when we moved. I don’t remember going back to The Old House for a long time.

The next time I saw the house, I was with my Dad. He was visiting our old neighbor, who was his best friend. It was maybe ten years later. I walked up our old driveway to the astonishing fence that saved me from that demon dog. Really, the fence wasn’t as astonishing as I was astonished. The gate that I remember breathlessly dragging to save myself from that ferocious canine wasn’t much more than two-feet tall. It would barely keep out a Jack Russell Terrier. So the dog that was chasing me was not a mastiff. Makes sense. Everything was bigger when I was smaller. I had a good chuckle.

I remembered this fence today. It came to me as I was thinking about fear. What are we afraid of? Do we let the objects of our fears grow huge before us? Or do we take a closer look and see them for what they are? Do we keep the images we had when we were most afraid, or do we gain perspective over time? Can we apply new knowledge to dissect and examine our experience and use that understanding to grow? Or do we stay stuck in that moment of terror, never to lift our heads again?