How Slowly We Heal

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Big Leaf Maple Stump

Five months ago, on the 7th of April, an early morning windstorm brought down an 80-foot big leaf maple. It was an old tree, its trunk over five feet in diameter, so old that there is no city record of its planting. It survived a vicious ice storm in December, a snow storm in January, and untold storms in the years of its growing and leafy shade across High Street. The core was rotted, but no one knew it until it toppled diagonally and strafed the office building across the alley. Windows were smashed, gutters and roof mangled, the awning and wrought-iron railing on the steps destroyed. The damage from the fallen tree has taken five months to repair, in slow painstaking steps, multiple subcontractors working their respective disciplines coordinated in precise order, windows boarded up with plywood blocking the light inside.

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Repair Scaffolding

For weeks the building was fronted by a scaffolding to allow workmen to move across its face. Various vagrants or travelers, sidewalk people or refugees, tried to take up residence under the cover of the scaffold walkway to sleep, drink malt liquor, or smoke a blunt. To replace the dormer window at the crown of the 1909 building required a small lean workman to crawl into the attic space, chase off the lingering sparrow, and hoist the window up from the ground. It has taken hours and days of frustration and patience to rebuild from a wanton capricious damage. Today the last piece, the newly forged wrought-iron railing, goes into place.

I have wrangled these repairs, nearly wept in vexation at the complications and delays. Yet, as I learn about the incalculable damage in Houston and Louisiana, the on-going rampage of Hurricane Irma passing from Florida north toward Georgia, I find myself ashamed. No one was hurt by the falling tree, no one lost a life, a limb or a loved one. In truth, I’ve learned how suddenly disaster happens, and how slowly we heal. In deepest sympathy for all those struggling, and all that was lost in these last few weeks,

Κ

Bearing Ganesha

I remember being a mouse. I lived in the yard at the temple of Ganesha and stole grains of rice from the temple-sweeper’s cupboard for our supper. I remember the dogs of the village as large Ganesh_on_his_vahana,_a_mouse_or_ratand swift as thunderstorms, how the scent of jasmine blossom perfumed my entire nest, the musk of marigolds. I had a pretty dove-colored wife. We had 57 children. We lived beneath a crack among flagstone paving the temple courtyard. It gave onto a small hollow wedged between the courtyard and the outer wall that we stuffed with leaves and hair and bird feathers. It was very dangerous during monsoon, twice we nearly drowned when the den flooded, and we clung to the dung box to keep from being swept away.  But we always returned, dug the mud out, and found new bits of cotton and chaff to stuff into the corners to continue our life.

Image: WikiMedia Commons

A Walled Garden

Paradise is a walled garden. A lumber yard is burning to the north. It will burn for several more days. The pillar of smoke was visible for 20 miles on Sunday, when it started. Forest fires continue to burn to the east, ignited by lightening or coals from careless campfires, a smoldering cigarette.

Last week temperatures rose into the 100s. The valley sucked in the smoke, a great white inhalation, a stifling breath thick as burning fog, and we simmered without the maritime flow from the Pacific. Sunset burned crimson and orange. We watered the garden, the flagging pots of geranium and fuchsia in the morning, the cantaloupe with its new swelling melon, the grapes and herbs in the evening. Outside the gate the grass shriveled and dried, burned by sun and smoke. Wasps circled the mouth of the hose. There was no dew.

After five days, the wind shifted and the high pressure system broke. Something turned. There was a tilt, a shift, a soft mist from the west, and the leaves from the birch began to release and skitter across the lawn. I think of firewood and oiling my boots. I picked the blackberries and wild plums from the hill, simmered them down and bottled the juice. Yesterday, I picked bunches of peppermint to hang from the herb rack and dry for tea. Black flies circle under the eaves, willy-nilly, into the webs of great brown spiders. Paradise is a walled garden:

Xenophon, a Greek mercenary soldier who spent some time in the Persian army and later wrote histories, recorded the pairidaēza- surrounding the orchard as paradeisos, using it not to refer to the wall itself but to the huge parks that Persian nobles loved to build and hunt in. This Greek word was used in the Septuagint translation of Genesis to refer to the Garden of Eden, whence Old English eventually borrowed it around 1200.

Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic

Finalist: Proximity Magazine Essay Prize

Proximity Magazine 2017 Essay Prize Finalist

My essay was selected as a finalist in this competition and I’m honored to be included in such an accomplished group of creative writers. The theme of this prize issue is WORK:

“For its second annual prize issue, Proximity was looking for true stories that explore the theme of WORK. Work defines our lives and our livelihoods. Work is labor. Work is art. Work is paid or unpaid, public or private or under the table. Work is at the heart of healthy relationships. Work puts food on the table. Work takes us out of our comfort zones. Work is political.”

August 4, 2017: Proximity editorial team announced the nine finalists for 2017 Essay Prize. Judges Adriana E. Ramírez (Essay) and Ted Conover (Narrative Journalism) will select winners (and a few additional finalists).