Rather than begin with an apology for the length of time that has passed since sending the last note, today I issue a prediction: By 2032, “lead” (rhymes with “bread”) will become an acceptable spelling for the past tense of the verb “to lead” rather than a ubiquitously misused homonym that most commonly refers to a soft metal that is undesirable in paint, gasoline or aqueducts. Look, I don’t like it anymore than you do, but we do what we must in learning to roll with life’s caprice.
What else are we adjusting to in 2022? In the paragraphs that follow I will share a developing story in the life of one suburban Virginian.
As background, and perhaps I’ve mentioned this before, one time in the sixth grade I won an entire jar of candy for most closely estimating the number of candies the jar contained. It was during a well attended school Halloween carnival, so competition was stiff. I imagine I stood there like a real nerd counting rows, eyeballing the height of the candies and their width and then doing some kind of calculation. Obviously this victory impressed itself into the depths of my memory since otherwise I currently remember nothing — especially not a six-digit robo-code that keeps changing every time I need to access my financial information.
While my significant powers of estimation may suggest otherwise, it would not surprise my ninth grade math teacher, Ms. Balch, that I lack a certain geometrical aptitude. If I have some leftover lima beans I usually choose a jar that is too small and then am faced with deciding if those extra few beans are worth dirtying a second jar. Why don’t I start with a jar that is bigger than I think necessary? Well what if I need a bigger jar later and I already used it for not enough lima beans to fill it?? Wouldn’t I regret that choice?
But today we’re not talking about candy or lima beans (though today I have already eaten both). Heretofore I have mentioned the declining health of the trees that my family assumed financial responsibility for when we naively signed a large mortgage for what could only be referred to as “a poorly maintained house slowly crumbling into a ravine.” I don’t expect you to remember the trees, I know you have your own things going on, so no hard feelings.
While some of the trees are thankfully still perky and up to their old tricks, those of the oaken variety have not fared so well in the past few years. We’ve asked multiple arborists and foresters (three) about the probable cause of death/irreversible decline of the oaks in our vicinity to which they have each replied: not sure, could be an insect, amplifying our confidence in the formidable powers of scientific inquiry. One theory is that the fungus (amongus) are staging a revolt against humanity for our incorrect assumption (leading to flagrant insanity) that the world was created solely for our use and benefit. So far the fungus theory hasn’t caught on with many experts, but that might be because this is the first time anyone’s ever mentioned it (me, it’s my theory). (I hear you saying: that’s not a theory, most likely it is an untestable hypothesis.) Okay then.
With multiple dead trees and the slim but unacceptable prospect of crushed children (did I tell you about the time Dave stood directly underneath a tree and pulled on a rope thrown over a large dead branch in an epic feat of man against branch that resulted in a trip to the ER on Christmas Eve?), it was decided that something had to be done. So we called the tree guys for an estimate and after meeting with us and looking at the yard they never called us back.
Hmmm…I thought, maybe this is the new normal. When I called the piano tuner he told me he could be here in six months. It’s been eight months since I called our plumber (multiple times) and he still hasn’t called me back and I’m pretty sure he’s still alive. So as we awaited an estimate from the tree people, per my new normal, I wondered for weeks whether there was something wrong with us and our yard, or something wrong with them, or whether this is just how things are done now.
Eventually (this was back in January), we found an outfit willing to come to our yard and remove (some of) the dead trees. Clarification: they were willing to remove (some of) the trees for a considerable sum of money. Alternately they were also willing to cut (some of) the trees down, aka to remove the danger of being crushed, while leaving (all of) the wood in our yard. Great! (I thought.) Um?? (Dave thought.)
We can use some of the wood for hugelkultur and make buried tree wildflower gardens like our friend Clay made while locked down with and homeschooling his kids during Covid year 1!! And then we can use some more to make, like, steps or something, sort of natural-type yardscaping. And then we could always roll some of it down the hill into the ravine to be broken down by fungus and provide habitat for all the critters. And then, if there’s any left, we could put it on Craigslist — free wood! Surely lots of people would be happy to take some free wood. Right?? (I thought.)
(Um…) (Dave thought.)
(That’s a lot of wood.) (Dave thought.)
Also it would have cost two thousand extra dollars to have the men haul all of that wood from the backyard (way downhill) to a chipper in the front yard (way uphill). I didn’t want all of that beautiful wood chipped when it could be used for something that was different from being chipped but also completely undefined. Finally the cost saving argument carried the day. We would try it my way!
Here we are in April and Maggie’s interest in learning to whittle seems to be on the wane. Our neighbor has chopped one logs’ worth of intensely wet, suffocatingly smoky wood. There are about 200 circles of tree (certain overestimate) remaining exactly where three burly men, using formidable strength and also power tools, positioned them. I can’t wrap my arms around most of the pieces. We’ve already touched on my powers of estimation but, 200+ pounds a piece? My back goes out if I even imagine trying to move one of the pieces and we’ve already sent more tree down the ravine than I care to admit.
I remain determined that this wood is here to teach me something. I look out of the window as it very…slowly….ages, wondering about reptile habitat among other things. I’ve asked my neighbor if he might show us how to chop wood. (Though we don’t have an axe. Or a working fireplace.) I haven’t tried the Craigslist “free wood” idea yet. Truth is, I kind of like it there. And maybe we will bring firewood as gifts to friends who invite us for dinner for the next 30 years. (Honey, why don’t we invite the Holes, they always show up with a charming stack of reptile-laden firewood?)
In other news, Dave recently had his first long trip away from home since Covid began. While he was gone Maggie sprained her ankle and knee and I may, to some degree, be implicated, certainly not intentionally but still one never likes for these things to occur while one is solely at the helm. My wood-chopping neighbor came to her rescue. Sam has acquired a menagerie of squishmallows under which he buries himself each night while I lie awake, wondering if inhaling polyester is a significant culprit in microplastic concentration in lung tissue.
I had the opportunity to help a poet get a beautiful book into the world. We went to Asheville and had the best piece of cake of my whole life at Well Bred in Weaverville. So many other things I’ve thought to tell you about but I’ll have to leave it at this and trust life to provide more fodder as it is wont to do.
I have an idea that I’m excited about. I don’t know what it is exactly, but when something occurs to you while you are pumping gas on Glebe Road during rush hour at the end of a difficult day and watching some kind of birds that fly in a group in the winter, maybe geese or something else kind of large, could be ducks but not crows, when you are watching them as the sun is about to set and a thought suddenly flashes across your mind in answer to a question you’ve had for the past fifteen years, you can’t just walk away from that idea.
I’ll write more soon.
- Note on this new format: I have decided as a test not to put hyperlinks in the text of my notes. When my eyes pass over a hyperlink that I’m interested in I find that it divides my attention — keep reading and come back or click now? To protect your focus while providing further resources, I am going to try it this way.
- More about hugelculture
- My friend’s book of poetry is called Dwelling Place and I helped her to edit and design it. It is very beautiful.