Calendar Maple

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 5:15pm

Several years ago I first noticed a volunteer maple tree, seeded I guessed, from the older tree at the corner of the front yard. It was in the tall grass, perhaps three feet high but the time I even realized it was there, at the time partly in the shadow of a gnarly, dying olive. It seemed, in the way of new trees, so far away from the house, and so small.

All of the trees are in their glory this time of year. The horse chestnuts are more than they used to be, the singular trees we noted at particular locations joined now by so many grown big in my lifetime, all of them now in full leaf with creamy candles, like Christmas trees arriving on the other side of the year.

The maples grew like proverbial weeds while everyone was trying to make other tress flourish, finally planting hundreds, thousands of the Japanese Black Pines that did thrive. Someone filled an old meadow on the south side of the Mansion with them, little seedlings we went over to watch being set by one man sitting on the back of a sort of trencher pulled by a tractor, dropping them one by one into the trench appearing between his feet.

There truly was not much going on back then.

They grew everywhere, it seemed, except at our house where my mother kept trying to turn maple seedlings to trees. The pines filled another pasture on the Mansion Road, and just as I was beginning to realize we were losing the open landscape of my earliest memories we had a heavy snow and the pine branches bowed, then broke.

It was the price of Instant Trees, they grew fast but weak. The honeysuckle laced into them lost its air of sweet innocence, then one vine after another crept in, Virginia creeper, and bittersweet, providing fall colors, but, again, at a choking cost. By the time the Turpentine Beetles descended many of the pines were half dead.

We sent from watching clouds of yellow pollen waft from thriving Black Pine on Clay Head to seeing stands of dead brown, victims of the beetles, the color of winter that lasted the year round.

Then there is that tree beyond the corner of the ell of my house, beyond the windows of the kitchen and the bedroom directly above it. In early spring, the birds are there, hopeful, hopping from bare branch to bare branch, looking for life. At first it is fun watching them.

Then there came the night I lost hold of sleep around 2 am and could not reclaim it for more that a few moments of disjointed — thankfully quickly lost — dreams that provided no rest. It was a spell during which time passes quickly and not at all, until I see the dreaded first blush of dawn out over the ocean. And hear the birds, the multitude of birds in that tree grown tall.

I do not know if I am sleeping more soundly, if the birds are not as noisy, if I have accustomed myself to them, or if their racket is muffled by the thick new leaves, all soft and full of moisture, but I have not noticed them of late.

The trees are big weeds, bare in winter, with no fall color, just an endless supply of brown leaves that blow in my open windows, but I love them in late spring. At the start of one week, it was foggy, the leaves of the my calendar maple by the kitchen window still filagree; by Saturday they were approaching dense, the sun brighter, and the blue bottle caps on the windows sill increased by one.

It’s all a throw back, my back-up six gallons of water, the legacy of growing up here when power could go out on a whim. Once, years ago, I found myself with a cap-less jug and started keeping a few “spares” to avoid a recurrence. They did also disappear as they were, and might be still, were I to give her the opportunity, a favored chew toy of my dog. I’d find twisted bits of blue plastic discarded on the rug or in warmer weather, on the grass, and be grateful she, at least, had not swallowed them.

So, I kept these spares, just in case, and, inevitably, they seem to propagate and I collect them and line them up on the window sill, then stack them, and, finally, winnow them down to… fewer. Eight is enough, one for each of the six jugs, and the rarely used one in the entry, for the outside water bowl the dog has forsaken for the horse trough, and another… spare.