Thursday, July 31, 2014

my tree

Outside my windows is a maple tree. Well, OK, a collection of young maple trees, since there doesn't seem to be a main trunk to it anywhere. It, or, more properly, they grow out of the steep hillside and present to my view several hundred maple leaves that frequently toss in the breezes that stream up and down the canyon between my window and the hillside, probably as a means for the air over downtown to the north to adjust itself against the air in the park and garden area to the south.

Daily, I have had the pleasure of looking at the trees -- it's what I do while I brush my teeth. It's a very refreshing view. A study found that patients whose windows showed them trees recovered from surgery faster than patients whose windows showed them buildings. I can believe it. In the condo I moved here from, when I looked out my window, I looked into someone else's window, and I tended not to look out very much. I really like having the maples outside my window here.

Another benefit from my brief conversation with Bryan, the new gardener, is that he has told me the name of the type of maple tree I look at: big-leaf maple. Wikipedia says you can make maple syrup from big-leaf maples, though its flavor is inferior to that of New England's sugar maples, and a posting from Oregon State says there are lots of industrial uses of big-leaf maple wood. But the revelation for me is that my trees have really big leaves, some the size of dinner plates,each an exaggerated maple shape with finger-length indentations.

One would think that, looking daily at my trees as I have for the past five months, I would have noticed that their leaves are really big. I didn't. I noticed that they were dark green with a light-colored underside. I noticed that a few of the individual branches seem to have died -- leaves all shriveled and brown. (Bryan says it's probably because of the drought conditions we've had for the past few months, with the tree cutting sustenance to a few branches to save fluid for the other branches.) I admired the grace of the leaves' motion and the way, after a rain shower, some leaves stayed temporarily turned over so that they looked almost white against their compatriots. But it never occurred to me that my trees have really big leaves.

How is it possible that I never noticed how big the leaves are? Well, that's just how complex reality is. You can look and look, and there are always details or configurations or interrelationships that you just don't see that someone else sees immediately. Which is why we need to talk to one another, so that we can each have the delight of discovering something new in what we thought was completely familiar. Like honking big maple leaves..

Monday, July 28, 2014


Picked my first tomato this morning. Or, rather, Bryan the new gardener picked the first tomato off my plant on the roof. He thought it wasn't quite ready, but we agreed that, left in my window, it would gain some color, leaving the plant to put its energy toward ripening the other eight or ten green tomatoes it currently bears. ("We agreed" is an overstatement. He said, and I nodded.)

The reason Bryan picked my tomato is that there is a technique to picking tomatoes, of which I was, of course, completely unaware and which I was unable to acquire by instruction. There is this little knuckle just up the stem from the tomato. You put your thumb against the knuckle and press and presto! change-o!, you've got a tomato to carry off. Probably everybody but me knew that, but now I know it too.

I actually carried off my tomato and a few mini-tomatoes from a flat Bryan was filling from ripe tomatoes on other people's plants that they have neglected to pick themselves. He plans to leave the flat opposite the elevator door for people to help themselves to.

Bryan is a recent graduate of plant-tending school. He lacks Steven's gravitas, but he has a youthful energy and kindness (he didn't laugh at me for not being able to press the tomato knuckle), and he clearly cares a lot about plants, not just professionally but in his heart. I like him.

It just now occurs to me that my writing is sounding a bit like the voice of Archie Goodwin, assistant to Nero Wolfe. This is because I'm re-reading Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries. The early ones are interesting for the cultural slip between the 1930s and now: no one could accuse Archie of being an early feminist. But the plots are sufficiently byzantine and the byplay sufficiently crackling to keep me happily ensconced. And my Kindle allows me to snap my fingers and get another one. I think my moral fiber is being undermined.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

6th story hummingbird

So I was hustling together crackers and cheese for a mid-afternoon snack, gazing vaguely out the window, when a hummingbird zoomed up to the window. He/she hovered there for several seconds, then zipped off to do whatever it is that hummingbirds do on hot Saturday afternoons.

I can understand a hummingbird coming to the roof to sip nectar from deep pink flowers. But to have one come to my sixth floor window just as I am looking out it is a Sign. Definitely a Sign. (It is also two more hummingbirds than I saw during the 17 years I lived in my condo and the 20 years I lived in my house in Beaverton.)

Now if I could only find someone to Interpret my Sign. I'm sharing raspberry shakes tomorrow with a friend who is a Wiccan, maybe she'll know what it all Means.

Friday, July 4, 2014

On not going to see the fireworks

It's the Fourth of July, a couple hours before midnight. On the roof, my neighbors are watching fireworks go off down the river at Oaks Park and up the river in downtown at the Blues Festival and, if it's clear, across the Columbia in Vancouver, not to mention all the do-it-yourself sparkles all over Portland.

I'm not. I can barely hear the explosions, so I know that fireworks are being set off. (At my old place, the fireworks went off practically overhead, so I definitely knew when they were happening. My current cat, a courageous soul, was never freaked out about it, though my previous cat ran and hid under the bed.) And it's satisfying to me to think there are people enjoying them, looking up at the bursting fiery flowers overhead, going "Oooo!" and "Aaaah!". There is in me history of having done that. And it is enough. It is as if I could reach into my own past and touch the wonder and excitement and enchantment with burning blues and reds and golds and whites -- and,more recently, greens and purples -- and feel the appetite for them satisfied, knowing that the same experience is happening again right now.

Which means either I am gaining depth and resonance in my old age, or I am too damned lazy to put on some shoes and walk down to the elevator that would take me to the roof.