I’ve seen lots of blogs and articles on “why I write” and “how I write” and variations on the theme, and I sometimes feel like a bit of a slug, being a slow writer at best and the stay-at-home spouse. I don’t know how writers manage with small kids—my virtual hat is off to them.
Somewhere in the family tree, I seem to have a Tolkien elf; I can’t write without trees. And when we moved here, it was to a cramped bungalow on a barren lot with one lone maple sapling in the front yard, accompanied by an untrimmed ‘weeping’ mulberry that looked like a giant green excrescence on the lawn. The only saving grace of the yard was LOTS of garden space, and a two rows of century evergreens two doors away – open white pines on the east, looking like Chinese paintings, denser trees on the left, a great windbreak on an open lot, a little bit of nature in a dense and clumsily-planned city.
We put in trees. A crabapple in front, a cherry and two apple trees in back, and – over the course of two summers, and end-of season sales, an oak, a tulip poplar, and a linden. Baby trees all, not so much muses as a nursery. For the first time, I felt my age. I’m in my 50’s – I will not live to see these trees full-grown. But it was a start, and better than just looking at the sun-baked lawn, and in our first summer here another oak volunteered by the back fence… a real infant.
Last summer, the new owner of the great pine grove destroyed it. All summer I kept the windows closed and earplugs in, as the killing machines tore up the earth, cut down the trees, sent bewildered refugee birds scattering through the neighbourhood seeking shelter. It was like living in a constant earthquake—and I’ve felt small earthquakes; this was worse. Ten old-growth evergreens were hauled off in a logging truck, and a mature walnut that was “inconvenient” was torn down as well. Then the house went up – a great ego palace Mcmansion that swallowed most of the deep, narrow lot. Instead of a wall of living green, we now have a view of a towering mud-color monstrosity whose windows look right into our sun porch.
I haven’t been able to write since the destruction began. The well was not only dry, but drained and poisoned with grief and anger. All my creative impulses seemed to be directed toward screening off the eyesore. My wife, bless her, put up with my ranting until I came up with an idea that was actually productive – a fast-growing native evergreen for the corner by the back porch. We visited a local nursery in March, the weekend after a major snowfall, and tramped around in the snow with John, a plantsman who reminds me a lot of my grandfather. And we found a native white spruce almost too tall to transplant, certainly too big for us to handle alone.
And the baby trees are now toddlers – after two years of developing roots, they’re reaching for the sky. I can look out my window and see the highest branches beginning to screen the cinder-block-and-siding of the mass-production housing development behind us. And the birds are beginning to investigate the spruce… I’m inviting cardinals to nest, and hope they get the message.
And I’m finally, finally, beginning to think there may be some stories left in me after all.