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.

Flower Girl

Roses I bought from the grocery store. Pretty, no? There are three here and they are light pink.

I shop much less frequently at grocery stores. I’m talking about the stores with the miles of aisle, where they hide the milk in the back of the store to tempt your impulses and where there are sixteen different types of mustard but none of the brown deli mustard you used to regularly buy there.

Gone are the days where there were just a handful of big box grocery chains in town. Now there are options that include those huge traditional stores with pharmacies and tons of prepared foods to small specialty stores or the independent butcher shop and bread shop and fish shop and cheese shop in the market. I buy my milk at the gas station when I run out–there is no line. I prefer the eggs at the Saturday morning farmers market. I can hustle in and out of the small independent organic grocer to grab an onion and enough green beans for tonight.

The big stores don’t carry my favorite yogurt. Their chicken thighs are as big as my own thigh–no actual chicken would be able to walk on that. The lines are too long. The parking lot too chaotic. And the staff, sometimes, too brusque.

Because there are so many nearby choices now, I don’t have to invest my time and money stocking up. It’s a big change that has happened slowly. More stores, more options and fewer people eating in the house.

The one thing I miss about the big stores, though, is the flowers. The cheap and beautiful roses. The purple or the maroon Alstroemeria with blooms for almost two weeks. The two stems of lilies that provide six or eight massive trumpets. The gerbera daisies with the green straws that hold up their heavy heads. The mixed bunches that shift with the seasons. I would pull out a tablecloth to match.

I’d sometimes buy two or three bunches and grab an assortment of vases, cutting the stems to fit. I’d distribute the sprays in the dining room, the living room and a small bunch in the bathroom. I have no talent for floral arranging, so I sometimes just lean them in the glass all bunched up for a more modern look. You do what you can.

Cheap fresh flowers from the grocery store don’t always open. I have had many a rose bud that stayed tightly wrapped until it became brown and crisp, dropping it’s lowly head down as if exhausted. These become my Corpse Bride bouquet, sitting on the table, somehow managing–only to me I suspect–to maintain a sense of beauty, if not actual beauty.

The flowers are the only thing that I miss from the megastores. And paper goods and cleaning supplies.

It’s good I don’t mind the shrunken head blooms, the falling petals and the crunchy leaves littering my dining room table. Stretching the blossom for an absurd period is a part of my indulgence. I guess I’m still experiencing whatever attracted me in the first place. It’s odd to be loyal to cut flowers, but that’s just my nature.


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.

Dahlia Dalliance

A deep red dahlia.

Someone brought me flowers.

Why this night? Did I become Ms. Universe? Well, maybe that didn’t happen. There must be a selection board. Or a panel of judges that make that decision. Nope, I didn’t win a pageant.

Did I nail my recital? Taking a graceful final bow, my right knee bent, my toe pointing stage right, my left leg trailing behind; bent at the waist with my arms floating above the air and my head lowered modestly? Nope. I wasn’t even performing.

Maybe I needed some appeasement? I didn’t even know that I was angry. In fact, I was experiencing no offense so there was no need for a spray of apologies. Nothing to forgive.

Perhaps it was a hallmark holiday? Looking at the calendar, the closest festival seems to be Flag Day. And that was a few weeks ago. Even on the personal calendar, there are no birthdays (not mine) or anniversaries (not mine). Nope. Not a marker of a day.

Am I sick, or even more serious, am I dead? Thankfully, no to both of those options. I feel great.

But still, there is a bouquet. It is in my hands, and it is so beautiful that it could have been flowers for someone else. But they were for me. And I am well.

Summer Is Coming

Dear lord, can't you smell the honeysuckle?!

We have been devoid of Spring. It has not come. It has forsaken us.

Now, it is late May, the trees are in full leaf. As if we had had Spring. But we did not.

Spring comes in small signs and then big gestures. And we have not had that progression. No. We have not.

It is supposed to be portended by the sharp points of the crocus leaves that deliver purple and white blooms in late January or early February and followed immediately by the yellow stars of the forsythia. These flowers bring joy when they disdain the snow and show themselves through the icy crystals. This did not happen.

Instead we had all of the flowers, the crocus, the forsythia, the cherries, the tulips, the daffodils and, even, the iris present themselves all at once and out of order at once. The buds were baffled by the long, rainy and mostly cold time during and after winter, inclusive of the time that we would call Spring.

There have been only four days this month without rain. I didn’t believe it either. I counted. Row by row I counted. And I remembered each cold damp day this month. And unlike any other May that I have seen in Washington, D.C., the temperature did not meet 80°F until yesterday. No. It did not.

There are only five days until the official beginning of summer; Memorial Day when you can fashionably wear white shoes–as if you would, but at least you could.

So tonite as I strolled up and down the street, with The Beast mostly in tow (yes, he tried to tow me, but I was having none of it), I was restored.

I had retrieved him from his hut and swapped my shoes from the sling backs to the sneakers. That damn dog has pulled me out of many a sling back, I tell you.

I didn’t grab an umbrella or don a raincoat or even snuggle into a hoodie for that matter because the night was unusually, albeit appropriate to the calendar, warm. As we ambled, the air was without bite, the hairs on my arms were not called to warm. And then. And then. And then.

There was the perfume of the honeysuckle that filled the entire block, maybe the entire street and perhaps, even, the entire city. It was that big. It was spicy, and sweet and actually radiated warmth, not just in my nose, but on my cheeks and on my forehead and on the exposed backs of my hands and on my knees and my ankles.

It was all of Spring, all that we missed for the past ten weeks, undiluted and concentrated in this fraction of an hour. It was so redolent and so encompassing that I feel that Spring was not stolen from me this year. It just arrived. All at once, in one breath. Yes, it did.

Markers In Time

Entrance to Glenwood Cemetery in D.C.

Lincoln Road heading away from the Shrine curves around like an S up the hill and then curves to the next S–a reversed S that hugs the other side of the hill between the two cemeteries.  It’s a beautiful park on this sunny spring day.

A crabapple tree extends its branches over the iron fence and shades the road. The tree is starting to switch from flowers to leaves. The flowers are like pink painted orbs against the green that is barging in. Just before the first S there is a Japanese-styled garden with a bridge arching over most likely a rock river. This tribute is new. I remember them moving the earth around and creating some moguls before they constructed a pagoda and then the bridge. Mylar balloons tied to one side of the bridge are lurching toward the sky. It seems strange, attaching balloons to the bridge. There isn’t an obvious marker. I don’t think they were from a birthday party–unless it was marking the birthday of someone dead?

Lifesized cement angels herald visitors at the entrance at deepest part of the curve. Well, person-lifesized. I don’t know what the size of an actual angel would be. Anyway, if you were trying to enter the grounds from the north, you’d have to turn your car 270°. Funeral processions always enter from the south for ease and are guided around a large circle with more angels, some blaring trumpets others in thoughtful prayer poses.

This is an old cemetery. The sign says it was founded in 1854. The stones are all different shapes and sizes. There’s some tall ones that look like the Washington Monument. These obelisks are different heights. Is there some status here? There are some twin stones, maybe marking a couple. Some markers are big crosses. There are square crypts that hold families full of remains. There is an old azaela that sits in front of a gravestone and has just about overtaken it. There are tall trees throughout the winding roads of the cemetery. There are lots of low flowering plants.

Modern cemeteries are designed for efficiency. There are no trees and no above ground stones so the groundskeepers can easily cut the grass. The graves are lined up in rows and are navigated to using simple coordinates. Some modern cemeteries limit the types of homage family and friends can leave behind. There is a sameness.

Not at this old cemetery. The grave markings are as different as the people buried here. There are old trees and young ones, too. Somebody is taking care to ensure that there will always be some shade. The grass is mowed, at least from where you can see from the road. Maybe people have to pay a fee to maintain the plots, but none are overgrown.

The leaves on the trees sway slightly and the sun warms the garden. There isn’t a funeral today, but there are a few people coming to visit those who have left them. They have picked a good day to pay their respects and to walk through the garden.