Monday, April 18, 2016

March and the Popcorn Tree

Photos by Theoden M. Wilkerson.
There is a stunningly beautiful tree in my front yard. It’s been there ever since I moved here more than ten years ago, but I still don’t know the name of the tree. I’ve always called it the ‘popcorn tree’ because of the profusion of white blossoms it produces every spring.  Right now it is an absolute riot of the purest white imaginable; the branches are crazy and grow in every direction, and every inch is covered with a blanket of the fluffiest, most fragrant, irridescent blossoms imaginable. In bright sunlight it hurts to look at this tree with the naked eye, so reflective and radiant are its flowerets.

My wife and I are getting ready to sell our house. It is an interesting and conflicting proposition for me; there are things I love and hate about this place. It’s old (for our part of the country); just five years ago in 2011 we celebrated the house’s 100th birthday. The reasons for selling are many; it’s definitely a seller’s market right now; Portland is a hot place to live and our location is great. I have gouty arthritis at the ripe old age of 44 and am incredibly allergic to all the miracle drugs now available for this condition, and as the years go by it gets harder and harder to navigate the stairs necessary to live in this 3-story craftsman. It needs someone with the time, money and/or skills to keep on top of living here. We live on the corner of a busy street; for an introvert (and yes, sometimes a borderline misanthrope) that’s never a plus.

Having lived here for over ten years, after a long and relatively unsettled life (I once counted and lost track after about 35 moves) it’s the first place I’ve ever called home for any significant amount of time. I’ll miss my spot on the couch, the locus of comfort and centeredness in my world. I’ll miss the proximity to the incredible Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants all within walking distance (even for a mobility-challenged individual like myself.) I’ll miss the memories of our two wonderful canine friends, Riley and Jackson, who both passed away last year within a few months of each other.  But I think most of all I’ll miss the tree in the front yard.

During the late winter and early spring, when the red berries weigh down the branches, it is life-sustaining for the robins, varied thrushes, and hordes of noisy, devastatingly handsome, pompadour-spouting cedar waxwings who depend on those berries. Not long ago I counted seventeen of them in the branches at once; for those who have ever tried to count birds you know how difficult it is to get an accurate count of even modest numbers of small, fast-moving critters; in this case they all sat stock-still, transfixed by something going on down the street. In the summer my popcorn tree’s glossy golden-green leaves provide a welcoming haven for dogs and their walkers (and yes, their messes as well.) But it’s mostly the springtime blossoms that I will regret not seeing every day.

As an atheist who firmly believes in the wonder and remarkableness of those things called life and consciousness, I’m often non-plussed (or straight-up pissed) at those who suggest that I’m somehow missing something by not believing in a "higher power." When I stand in front of the tree, looking at it assaulting the world with its ravishing comeliness, I’m dumbfounded with reverence, literally moved to tears with the simple, sheer joy of being alive, now, in this place and time, and with the experience of sharing the world with such a marvelous, fellow living traveler as the tree in my front yard. Somewhere back in time, beyond eons uncounted, this tree and I had the same parent. What is more wonderful, more awe-inspiring than that?

I don’t believe in an afterlife, but if I were to imagine heaven I think the trees would look something like this one. I will miss this tree when I move. But it will live on; hopefully longer than I will. I’d like to think that in a century or so the owner of this house, or perhaps their child, will stand in the lamb-like end of March in awe and wonder at the beautiful popcorn tree in their front yard.