Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saturday Musings, 21 July 2012

Good morning,

A shrill bird sounds its six-note call high above our home. The impatiens have slightly wilted in their clay pots but have otherwise endured the vicious heat of the last week. I saved several pansies by transferring them from the open deck to the shade of the high-ceilinged porch, but the Gerber daisies droop on their wicker stands. In their lamentable state, they seem to reproach me.

I think about the aging cedar that we removed last year, and gaze over the railing at the holly bush struggling to rise in its place. Though the basement floor drain seems to run significantly better without a steady diet of cedar needles, I still miss the spindly, struggling majesty of the tree. From kindergarten's task of memorizing the Joyce Kilmer poem, to senior year, lying beneath a tree with my religion case, gazing into its boughs and learning to meditate, I have been drawn to trees.

A day or two ago, I drove down the long hill on Broadway, leaving my office, descending to the Plaza and the Brush Creek area. The installation of this Corps of Engineers project insulted Kansas Citians by the stripping of old groves of trees. The walkway depicted in models as tree-lined had nothing at its inception but spindly newly-planted saplings with their wooden supports and delicate leaves. But now those tiny trees have grown, and as I turned the corner to traverse the northern edge of the creek, I smiled with the pleasure that a city dweller reserves for nature.

And then, under the swooping bough of one of the taller trees, I spied a scraggly three-some: Cross-legged, dirty, in tattered clothes, with piles of grungy belongings pushed to the middle of the group. I've seen them there before -- or ones like them. The homeless of Kansas City; the disenfranchised, the drop-outs, the derelict. My friend Katrina brings them food from her church's kitchen, and has even befriended several, including one who later met a sad and lonely death, famously, the news of which darkened the pages of our local paper for weeks on end. I have never joined her efforts; I have never approached the cluster of men who gather by the side of the Creek, passing around a bottle, or a plate of food from a nearby restaurant, or something crumbled in the depths of a paper bag.

I drove past the men without slowing, without even thinking about the protein bars in my purse that I could have stopped to give them. I averted my eyes from the filth of their clothes, and the streaks of grey in their uncut hair. I glanced back only once, before the light turned green, but from the angle at which I looked, I could see only glimpses of them through the thickness of the tree's summer crown. The light changed. I turned the corner, and made my way south, leaving them to whatever fate the evening held for them. I closed my eyes and drew in a little breath, feeling a small little clutch in the pit of my stomach, and unable to restrain myself from checking to be sure the windows were up and the doors were locked.

The rest of my trip home afforded me views of other trees, just as beautiful as the young ones on the Plaza's edge. Lining Brookside Boulevard and rising from the yards of the old homes, they stood tall, serene, undisturbed by gatherings of men with nowhere else to go to cool themselves. The occasional bench, situated in a carefully chosen spot, awaited a cheerful child or a tired dog-walker. But none appeared. The wind occasionally tossed the long branches. At stoplights on my route, I watched songbirds swoop from perch to verdant perch. Other than me, nobody seemed to be taking special note of the trees in my neighborhood. Nobody sought refuge under their boughs.

I pulled into my driveway, and found myself looking at the rising growth in my neighbor's yard. His trees tower over his rooftop, planted at the fresh start of our 100-year-old neighborhood. His children have grown, and nobody sits under his trees anymore. He has taken away the chairs that once rested at the base of his biggest maple, and let the yard reclaim the bare spot where his sons once played basketball far into the night.

The trees of my neighborhood endure. They shelter the homes in which we live our lives, the homes we vacuum, and clean, and decorate with meticulously chosen trinkets. Those trees sway in what little breezes kiss them, and send their wide shadows over our shingled houses, reaching high to block the sun and give us what coolness they can. But you never see anyone sitting, cross-legged and comfortable, unclean and unaware, in their comforting shade.

In the highest branches of my own maple, I see brown leaves, burnt, I imagine, by the brutal sun of our summer. The tree has regained most of its shape since being split by an ice storm years ago, and has spread wide, and grown taller, and its girth guards my house. As I sit, quiet, contemplative, on the deck, with my neck crooked back, a realization rises within me. But then the bird gives a final call, and whatever wisp of knowledge whispered in my soul slips away.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.