We sat in our lawn loungers, not on the lawn, but next to the pond under the avocado tree. The grapefruit tree–hunched over as if in resignation, or shame–was at my back. My husband’s face was half-lit by a listing tiki torch.
“I don’t see why we can’t just keep it. As is.” I was referring to the grapefruit tree that–as you may have read–unearthed itself on Earth Day of this year.
“Because. It’s dead.”
“It’s not dead. Baby grapefruits are growing on it.” And then I added, in desperation, “You can’t kill something that’s bearing life.”
Brad pruned the huge tree down to a manageable size a few weeks ago, and what is left is a sort of bonzai-looking, swept-to-the-side effect that I have grown to like.
In the dusky light I could just make out my husband’s “I’m-not-going-to-change-my-mind” expression, though I continued to plead a very strong defense for the old tree. At last Brad declared he has no plans to pull the tree out until after the new grapefruits are harvested.
The thing is–and yes, I’m writing about that damned old tree again, but it’s not just about the tree of course, there’s some crazy metaphor running like a freight train through this and I’m trying to catch hold of it–the thing is, the environment around the tree is recovering and healing itself.
The frog has returned from wherever he went. We hear him bellowing in quiet hours and recently I spotted him again, peering at me from under a new lily pad, surrounded by burnt and curled pads that dried out in the harsh sun after we lost the shade of the grapefruit tree.
Hector heroically patrols the west fence in constant pursuit of the squirrels who live only to taunt him. They’ve been evicted from their spacious home in the old condemned tree they lived in and are cramped up in smaller accommodations in the avocado tree. The other space available to them is on the Tree With The Face. I don’t know what kind of tree this is, but it’s huge, and it has this face painted in a big center knot. The face was on the tree when we moved in; at first it gave us all the creeps but now it has a certain familiarity to it. This recent overcrowding is giving Hector quite the time trying to maintain squirrel order, but in general the squirrel population remains intact.
The banana palm that hangs over the pond is a brave soldier, its big leaves splitting and browning, its stock hard as wood–in the mornings I like to hold the fan spray over its huge green leaves, and watch the sunlight through the drops like diamonds dripping into the pond below. In the morning sun all seems well in this spot.
I think that the demise of the aged grapefruit tree is part of the history of this piece of earth, and I tell my husband this. I want to build around the scars, maybe because it reminds me of that story, in which the old woman describes how the most beautiful tapestries are made. “When the weaver makes a mistake, we don’t remove it,” she said. “We work the mistake into the pattern, and that’s when we get the most beautiful design.”
Last week I was at Outpost with seventeen kids between the ages of twelve and nineteen. A brief and inadequate description of Outpost: like camping in that you sleep and eat outside and there’s no electricity, but like camp in that there is a gifted staff to feed you and run program; amazingly cool events are planned for you in which you might rappel down a boulder or scream down a mountain trail on a bike; worship by campfire, plenty of hiking, and excellent company are all included.
I love every one of the kids I was with. They are brilliant survivors of their own stories–uniquely funny and smart and authentic.
We spent every hour of every day–exceptions were only showers and sleep–together for that week. We were tired, falling asleep on one another’s shoulders at campfire and getting on each other’s nerves in the morning. We were trying new things; some of the stuff we did was scary, and we felt safe enough to say so. We had moments of triumph that we shared with each other. We built a small history. Not all of the moments were good ones, but all of them became part of the story.
These kids I love may want another story to live but they are in the ones they were given. For now. I look at them in humbled admiration of their strength. I know they have been wounded by the mistakes of their parents–as we all have–and yet I see them creating their own tapestries, woven with the fervor of someone who wants a better story.
There’s something about that Outpost week–some passageway that opens or a sacral spirit that clears out the static–that makes revelation not just inevitable but rather brazen, actually. One might get smacked with some discovery about oneself that one had no intention of making. It happens.
One night at Outpost, Melancholy intruded upon me; unannounced, it came upon me in my sleeping bag just as I had settled in, the girls talking and laughing all around me in the darkness, the boys shouting to us from across the way. Regret showed up, too, totally uninvited. They kept harping at me about my younger self, the adolescent and young adult me, who never knew such things as Outpost existed. And who might have benefitted from the experience instead of getting in trouble, and mooning over boys, and trying more dangerous and damaging ways to figure herself out. And less people may have gotten damaged along the way.
I can’t save that young girl, seeing as how she’s in her fifties now, and no longer exists in that form. Just as I can’t save the kids I love from their own lives. It’s also likely I will be unable to save even a lone tree in my own back yard. But it’s a unique tapestry that is forming before me–this life I am living–with many intricate and original patterns, and we each must weave our own. I’m trying to trust the One who knitted and formed me in my mother’s womb. I’m beginning to admire my own tapestry. It is a work of art, a masterpiece woven with truth and fears and joy and deep pain; it is my most original work.