When a branch – and by branch, I don’t mean a real branch, just the end of one, with a small spray of leaves on the end, like little green frogs, ready to jump away – anyway, when a branch like that is in the middle of a highway, and it’s no danger to any car that may pass by, that’s when you discover that there are three types of people in the world.
The first type sees the little branch sitting there, and he swerves away from it. He looks back in the rearview mirror and watches it, just barely, as it sways and flips around a bit from the wake the car left behind it. He wonders how it got there – there are no obvious trees around. He ponders it, creating its history and trying to figure it out. Maybe he remembers that he needs to prune his own tree, or maybe he just thinks about trees.
The second type sees the little branch sitting there, but only in passing. There’s no second thought spared — once he figures out it’s not big enough to hurt his tire, he doesn’t swerve or not swerve, he just keeps driving. If there’s a bump, he figures he’s run it over. But he’s not sure.
The third type sees the little branch sitting there, and he’s happy about it. He tries to figure out if it will make a good crack when he runs it over. He aims his front tire, and the only deeper thought he has is whether or not there will be two cracks as he goes over — once for the front tire, and once for the back.
The fourth kind of person, though, notices and avoids it, and then goes on to write an essay about trees.
I suppose I noticed the branch in the road mostly because of where I live. It’s one of the many new developments that sprang up as the forests gave way to people with too much money in their wallets and an urge to get even more. I’m just as guilty as they are, I admit, because I do live here. Maybe I’m even more guilty, because I know what’s wrong. There are no trees.
Really, no trees. I know, it’s hard to believe. Almost every neighborhood has trees, I know you’re thinking to yourself, and that’s true, but this one doesn’t have trees — it has twigs. Big twigs, I admit, that have been planted two to each front yard and one to each backyard. The trunks are all of an inch and a half around, if you’re lucky, and the coverage they provide sometimes lets a small swarm of gnats hide, but other than that, they can’t do much else.
I didn’t think I’d be bothered quite this much by the lack of trees. I thought I could survive — trees grow quickly, right? But after a few months of living here, I couldn’t help but think of Erma Bombeck’s lament upon moving to the suburbs a few years before I was born when her trees and shrubs came in seed packets left in the garage. I found myself growing jealous of people who lived in houses built twenty years ago, ten years ago, even five years ago, if their trees were full grown, instead of the little midgets that were granted with our homestead.
But then it happened.
The model homes had been built before the rest of the development. They contained extra everything — landscaping, windows, trees. One tree, in particular, took its root in the spot where a driveway would one day live. It was this tree that had been ripped from the ground and tossed in a pile of dirt, debris, and garbage when the workers, intent on uncovering the spot where they’d be laying concrete the next day, left it in the empty lot next door to the model home before which it had once grown to its full two-and-a-half inch trunk girth and spread its semi-majestic leaves.
It stayed in that trash pile for two cold and rainy December days before we took action. And that was only because we first wanted to make sure it was abandoned and second wanted to figure out how to transport it several blocks. We still weren’t completely sure of the transport thing, but since the garbage was due to be picked up that afternoon, we assumed that a plan would come to us sooner or later. And it did. Sort of.
My husband set out in our car and managed to load the root ball into the trunk. Then, with leaves and branches trailing along the street, he drove home very slowly while the mud from the dirt pile it had been tossed in slowly dripped down the back bumper and soaked into the trunk’s cheap grey carpeting. By the time he had made it to the driveway, it had begun to rain. He put the tree into the wheelbarrow and lugged it to the backyard, then stood out in the freezing drizzle to dig a hole in the ground, just a few feet away from our twig. He shored it up with a stick and some twine, then came inside to shower and warm up.
It spent some rough months taking a tumble every time the wind blew a bit too strongly, but we eventually managed to secure some metal stakes and reinforced loops to hold it steady.
Now we can look out into the backyard and see our ill-gotten gain. It’s healthy, and if I could say so, happy. It had been trash — discarded, left for dead. Now it has soil around its roots, leaves on its branches, and dogs to pee on it. What more could a tree want?