Lesser angst has occurred over matters of life and death — unplug or not? Leap or stay put? Red pill or blue?
Me, I had to pick out a tree.
Just one tree. From hundreds. That all looked identical. Situations like this set my borderline OCD whirling. Pick out one tree from all these? It’s like putting a mental patient in a round room and telling her to find the corner.
Oh, she’ll try. Yes, she’ll try.
So, I’d wanted to go to the annual Winters Friends of the Library tree sale for years, but two things always hindered me. One, I always had some other prior commitment; and two (mostly two), there isn’t room in my yard for a wee marigold, let alone a tree.
As it is, the figs, cherry and pomegranate trees are fighting for dominance over the lemon, mandarin and grapefruit trees, all of them dwarfed and overly shaded by three towering and ridiculously messy albizias (but the hummingbirds and little honeybees love them so), and there’s one lone persimmon desperately trying to writhe free of a gargantuan butterfly bush. The entire jungle is woven together by honeysuckle vines clinging to everything they can grab and strangle, and spreading across the ground so thick that not even a stray dandelion could take root.
Not an inch of bare ground anywhere. Until the day my husband finally accepted that his beloved hops vines were never going to grow where he’d planted them. Such disappointment. He’d lovingly constructed an elaborate support structure for them made of two massive tree spikes intended to support 10-gallon trees and two barbed wire posts able to withstand a leaning steer, all to support the two frail, wispy green threads gingerly spiraling up a network of rope, wire and string clear up into the branches of the albizia overhead.
This is what happens when engineers are allowed into the yard.
Writers, on the other hand, would’ve simply waited until the hops were long enough and just pinned them to the fence with twistie-ties. Ironically, in the end, both strategies would’ve had the same result. Those hops had no chance under the dark umbrella of the albizia, and never even got as tall as the fence. So, Joe reluctantly dug the rhizomes up and I replanted them along a sunny wall. If they decide to grow after all, I’ll throw them through a coat hanger and hook it to the rain gutter before The Cutest Man In The World decides to engineer something again.
With the hops relocated, I suddenly realized … there’s space for a new tree! And I knew just what I wanted: a lime tree. I never seem to have a lime when I need one for a recipe. Off I went to the WFoL tree sale.
But they were sold out.
I was determined to plant a tree. Right that very moment. There was no time to drive to Vacaville or Davis and search for a lime tree. It had to be now. (See borderline OCD, above.)
I wandered amongst a few farm trailers full of bare root trees to see if some other kind of tree spoke to me. The signs on the bins said peach, plum and cherry, but they all looked essentially the same – bare-naked baby trees. The pressure was on. I had to pick one out. Make a snap decision. I don’t do snap decisions. It can take me 10 minutes to pick out a toothbrush.
I drug a few well-meaning WFoL volunteers past each and every trailer, and asked 10,000 questions — Does it need pruning? Fertilizing? A pollinator? Space? Light? Air? How big will it get? How wide? Will it be a round shape or a cone shape? Can it hold up a nice little wind chime, you know, a tinkly one, not too loud or obnoxious, maybe about yea big …
And then of course, I’d turn around that to find that the volunteer had slyly slipped away to help someone — anyone — else. No worries, there were a lot of volunteers.
Finally, I decided on a pear tree, because my husbie loves pears and I felt bad that his poor, stupid hops were never, ever going to grow, no matter where they were planted. Having chosen the type of tree, the next big decision was to determine which, in this entire bin of identical bare-naked baby pear trees, was the exact perfect one. And you know that I pulled out each and every one, and examined it from top to bottom and back again. Finally, one stood out: a perfectly balanced, sweet little tree, with three slender arms stretching skyward. Yes, this is the one. This is my tree.
As I headed toward the check-out booth, one of the volunteers I’d exhausted earlier remarked, “Never in the history of the world has anyone spent that much time picking out a tree.”
“I know,” I replied proudly. Perfection takes time.
He directed me toward one of the local farmers who was pruning the trees before purchase. Oh, lovely, he’ll clip any little straggly twigs. I handed him the most perfect little pear tree in the world. He eyed it for a second, then picked up his loppers and bit right through the middle of the trunk. The slender little arms tumbled to the ground.
I choked on my own gasp.
He just shrugged and grumbled, “That’s the only way it’ll grow right.”
He handed the mid-torso amputee back to me, and I drove home in a daze of shock and horror. I spent the rest of the afternoon digging the perfect hole for my perfect new, er … stick. That hasn’t produced a single leaf yet.
Hmmm. I have to wonder. Was that farmer telling me the truth? Or did those WFoL volunteers put him up to it just to get even?
— Email Debra DeAngelo at [email protected]; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.edebra.com