The Lost Blossoms of March March 28, 2010Posted by Mark Folse in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Mardi Gras Indians, spring, tree
The birds at 7 a.m. are chattering like a girl’s high school has just let out and my back is aching from spending yesterday humping sacks of dirt and the digging and filling of holes in the yard, sure signs in a place where we measure our year by another set of seasons–parading, Carnival, hurricane–that it must be spring.
You can’t trust the Japanese magnolias. They were in bloom everywhere a few weeks ago, and I only learned their name sitting in the patio of the Maple Leaf bar admiring one while shivering through an afternoon poetry reading. The bloom to soon to server as anything more than an early warning system, but they put you in a mood for spring (one soon disappointed by the next cold snap), and in a nostalgic reverie for my time in Washington D.C. and the blooming of the cherries along the tidal basin, that Odd rite of spring in which the pink blossoms rain down and blow along in imitation of the past winter’s snow.
It was an Odd winter, with a long hard freeze that killed most of the yard and the power company Entergy sucked more money out of my wallet than a pass to Jazz Fest. Everywhere the city was brown, and the last time I saw New Orleans stripped of its evergreen was in the deep flooded suburbs of the Lakefront, the East and Gentilly after Katrina. The dull colors of ground and garden did not, however, put me immediately into some PTSD reverie of the Federal Flood. It must have been the weeks of shivering weather just past that instead led me to remember the lawns of Fargo, the ubiquitous brown and gray when the snows are finally gone.
Now the clover and thistle are bursting through the still dormant grass sward in front of the house, and with tiny patch of lawn in the back is coming up and seeding, at least on spots, and with the change in the air I’m more inclined to try to re-seed it rather than cover it with rock or deck it over as my wife suggests. Not only are the song birds having their ritual March carnival but some possum has trundled out if its winter hidey hole to inspect our yard, driving my wife into a pest frenzy and my son and I to wonder if they make good pets. I haven’t seen it myself, but I may slip a dish of apples into some corner of the yard my wife won’t notice and hope to catch sight of it. I have a soft spot for possums.
One of the few reliable signs of the seasons I can spot from my porch was the tree across the street. I’m no arborist. I know plants about as well as I know art or classical music. I enjoy them immensely at times and know what I like but you won’t be able to engage me in much conversation on the subject, but this tree was special to me, the calendar by which I measured the almanac’s seasons. At first I thought it was some kind of cypress, light barked with a pronounced change of color in the narrow leaves come fall, deep reds that reminded me of my time in the north. I watched it all winter, measuring the passage of cold front storms as it gradually lost its dead but tenacious leaves with each passing wind storm until it stood bare and spindly. And it bloomed in spring, covered in pink blossoms, just after the Japanese magnolias were past their season.
I wish I had studied it more closely, taken a few leaves and a blossom to press into a book because now it’s gone and I am trolling through the terrible mess of digital photos I have dumped on the computer, looking for one that captured it. I got up one recent Saturday to the falsetto roar of small chainsaws and watched (as much as I could bear to watch), two guys in an unmarked pickup hacking it down to a low stepping stone stump. I stood there a while at a low boil, threatening in my head to call the city arborist as the tree was on the median strip, that bit of green between the sidewalk and the street. Can one just cut down a tree on city property, even if you’ve planted it? I rented most of my life and know the rules for private property. What I planted in my landlord’s yard became his. Even if that was their tree, something they had planted long ago by putting it on the city’s land had is ceased to be theirs?
Now I am trolling through websites and Google photos, trying to put a name (too tall when frown for a dogwood, I think; I’m leaning toward an eastern redbud. Somewhere I must have a picture of the tree living (even in its winter undress), but for now all I have is this camera phone snap of it at the end, a pile of beautiful blooming branches piled in the back of a pickup, an aftermath of pink petals littering the ground.
I am probably in more trouble now than I was snapping camera phone pictures of them (the view in the picture is from my steps). It’s never good to make the neighbors angry and best I can figure someone (probably kids) let the air out of one of my tires the other night, but who the hell cuts down such a beautiful tree right at the peak of its spring bloom? People who don’t have a single plant in the ground, not so much as a ready-made planter or basket to decorate their porch, I guess.
If I didn’t have a dam utility poll right in front of my house I think I might even have to miss the Indians this Super Sunday to hump myself over to the large garden center Avondale to buy myself a sapling, and spend another day humping heavy sacks of dirt and shoveling up the worm-less clay of Mid-City to plant a tree. Instead I’m going to have to let it go, as I’ve promised my sister a ride uptown to see the wildest birds of spring and the season’s best colors, the Uptown Indians.
From now on I will have to mark the change of the seasons from memory, standing on my porch with my morning coffee and starting at the barren house across the street, imagining the blood red leaves of fall, the naked sticks of winter, and the lost blossoms of March.