Another Day in the Country
Musing from a hammock
© Another Day in the Country
I was reading a book by Sandra Cisneros, “The House on Mango St.,” which has won awards and acclaim in literary circles.
I read it out loud as my sister and I traveled to a wedding in Nebraska that I’ve already told you about.
Did I tell you that, while I was taking pictures of the bridesmaids and the wedding party, my sister and the mother of the bride were putting final touches on the spot by the lake where the wedding ceremony would take place — hauling chairs, straightening and decorating, final touches, creating a lovely scene for the occasion?
When we all came for the service, we stood up as the bride came down the aisle. The minister forgot to tell us to sit down, so we stood for the whole ceremony and never used the chairs.
When we later sat around my table in Ramona, talking about the wedding, telling funny antidotes and poignant memories, we laughed about all the work we’d gone to — like hauling chairs — that no one sat on.
“Really?” said the mother of the bride, “We never sat down?”
She’d been so caught up in her daughter’s wedding that she hadn’t noticed.
“Really!” said my sister, who remembered hauling all those chairs. “You were in the front row, so you didn’t notice.”
I gave up on reading the book by Cisneros aloud on the way home from the wedding.
While I thought her writing was memorable and thought-provoking, hearing it read was tricky. Her writing style, her sentence structure, was more suited to eyes than ears.
Later, finishing the snippet chapters in the book, I recorded a quote from a chapter titled “Four Skinny Trees” that I’ll share with you.
Four skinny trees “who do not belong here but are here. Four raggedy excuses planted by the city … their strength is secret. They send ferocious roots beneath the ground. They grow up and grow down and grab the earth between their hairy toes and bite the sky with violent teeth and never quit their anger. This is how they keep.”
How do I keep, I wondered to myself, here in Ramona, where I have sent my roots beneath the ground. If I were a tree, what would I be?
I’ve always admired the ancient redwoods along the California coast for their height, their tenacity through fires and earthquakes, their community, and their longevity.
Do I have the patience to be a mighty giant, starting from such a small seed, enduring constant flux, growing above it all, quietly?
Maybe I’d rather be a madrone tree. They are native to California, too, flamboyantly artistic with their elegant leaves and peeling bark that hangs down like dreadlocks of color shades from cream to pink to amber and sienna — bark so beautiful that I’d collect it and keep it around all winter for inspiration.
Or perhaps I’d be a manzanita, a feisty, wiry tree with maroon branches and trunk, the leaves providing healing for the poison oak growing at its feet — or so the Indians said.
The manzanita are growing sparse in California these days. I’ve always loved their deep red color on crooked branches and once carried some on top of a VW beetle all the way to Colorado so I could use them for decoration in my home. But I’m in Kansas now. So what trees flourish here?
Many folks in my town are like hedge trees — tough, sturdy survivors that are here for the long haul — strong fence posts, useful.
They have a kind of wisdom. They can tell you when it’s safe to plant your gardens without saying a word.
You just have to watch for new spring leaves, old-timers told me. When they are as big as a quarter, it’s time to plant.
Would I be the elm tree that stands guard over my sister’s house? It’s a grand old tree with arms stretching out toward the road, toward the church next door, even trying to shelter the house.
I don’t think it is just one tree but a family of elm saplings that grew there unchallenged. They come up everywhere here in Ramona, like weeds. I’m constantly trying to control them.
They’ll take over the flower beds, I complain. However, these big old elms that persevere are beautiful, grand, glorious trees.
And then there’s the cottonwood — yellow gold this year, shining brilliant in the fall sunshine.
Could I be an apple tree that kids like to climb? It offers fruit, but for the fruit to be good, you must spray noxious chemicals, which I really dislike.
I think the neighborhood perception might be that I’m more like the cypress — slightly out of place, not quite fitting in.
I stand admiring the red-headed liquid amber, tossing her leaves on the ground in this wind, creating a red-and-gold carpet where you can walk, pondering our existence, on another day in the country.