Sunday, October 11, 2015

Young Tree, Old Gardeners

Just discovered a newly-planted tree in the greenbelt near my writing bench. It’s a skinny little thing, still with its training wheels: poles on each side wired to it, holding it erect. You can count the number of leaves on it -- I did, there are 12 -- although I don’t know what kind. They’re not three-pointed maples, so it’s pushing the limits of what I know about trees. They’re vaguely oak-looking, and I’m not even sure of that.

All the other trees in the neighborhood are fully leafed out; it’s first days of autumn but the weather is still summer around here. So this newbie really sticks out. You want to say encouraging things to it, like you might to an awkward teenager: “You’ll be beautiful in a little while. Hang in there.”

And it will flourish. I’m not the one who put it in the ground, a sure death sentence for anything green. We have really professional gardeners. Mostly they’re Chicano, 50s- and 60s-looking. Many look too old to be doing this kind of work in the heat -- we’re having some near-hundred-degree days as I write this -- but I’m sure  it’s not by choice. I think they get even with the world by running their hundred-decibel leafblowers.

They work all around us residents but manage to not be “of” us. Most don’t speak English or pretend not to, and I and the people   I know don’t speak Spanish. So if there is any contact it’s fleeting: pidgin Spanish-English and some gestures to indicate you’d like the flowerbed in front of your apartment weeded. If it’s heavier than that the English may be a little louder and a little slower, and maybe a ten-dollar-bill will change hands.

The gardening goes on  constantly; no blade of grass escapes to grow more than half an inch when our gardeners mow the lawns. At tree-trimming time you see them perched in the upper branches, running small chainsaws. The trees look denuded when they’re through, but I’ve learned they know what they’re doing because the trees come back better than before.

I can't help but think there must be a metaphor in the situation somewhere: the aging gardeners, some of whom look like they should be in retirement themselves, planting young trees in an old folks’ community. The trees will outlive all of us, residents and gardeners both. Young Tree, Old Gardeners