Monday, September 21, 2015

Orange Fire

The tree trimmer leaned back onto the rope around his waist and the tree, twenty feet in the air. He wore studded boots that dug down deep beneath the bark, planting his feet firm around the belly of the tree. His chain saw, dangling from a thick belt around this waist, whined in harsh electronic rhythms.

The chain saw roared into action when he swung it toward the branch nearest to him. With one clean cut, the branch fell, dangling into the air between the cutter and the ground. Two men stood on the ground, belaying the cutter and the cut branch on separate sets of ropes. One man ran up as the branch fell and the belayer gave rope to lower the branch toward the runner's waiting hand.

The runner untied the branch and lay it on the bed of the chipper, a yellow beast resembling a mechanic tiger gnashing its iron teeth, announcing a ferocious hunger. It chomped onto the branch, cut side first. The tip of the branch, covered in lush clumps of blue green needles, for it was once a pine branch, before it became fodder for the electronic tiger, shook with fear. This reminded me of episodes of the "Animal Kingdom", where a lion had caught up with the weakest gazelle and began cutting his death on the gazelle's tender throat, while its legs shook with life, fear and desperation for a long while, even as the lions dug into its belly, and devour its head.

The chipper was made by the Vermeer company, a BC-150 model in yellow, the happy color of corn fields, African planes, sunshine and icons of smiling faces on T-shirts. Its roars gave me chills, a sweeping gnashing sound of metallic blades, marching in unison like beasts invading from another world. Perhaps to the trees so we are.  On the opposite end of the feeder platform, a thin pipe rose from its bulging belly, curved in an S shape like the neck of a pelican. A yellow plume of chips, the chomped down remnants of tree branch flew from the end of this pipe, into the waiting belly of a hauling truck. Black all over.

The men worked in beautiful harmonies with each other, the cutter threading the rope onto high branches, then tying the dangling end around the next branch before cutting. The belayer kept his eyes on the cutter, his movement measured, vigilant and precise. The cutter rose higher on the tree, leaving a trail of torn bark where his boots had slipped and cut, exposed in bright orange against the dark browns of remaining barks. Like tears trailing down the tree, these orange marks merged with the wounds of cut branches, crying out in color. The cutter didn't seem to be concerned over this damage on the tree, perhaps he knew from experience that they would recover, pines being a tough breed.

But he rose even higher, cutting branches in quick and efficient cycles of loop, tie, and cut. Would he leave any branches? All but three branches remained when he stopped. I breathed a sigh of relief.

My tiny patio garden was at peace save for the noise nearby. Most of the fallen rose pedals have faded into a tea stained maroon and gathered into a corner. My Gardenia had just gifted me with another bloom, the fourth one on this tiny new bush. The lavender blossoms danced in blue and the rosemary bush was recovering from a bout of rust, now a bright shade of spring green.

I turned back to the group of men making noise, surprised they hadn't collected their dusts and moved on. Then the cutter's chainsaw whined back to life, chewing through the material of the tree, horizontally across the main branch this time. He was cutting the top part of the tree!

I had often admired this pine as I could see it from my bedroom window. It was taller and thicker in circumference compared to its siblings nearby, soaring over rooftops, about sixty feet from the well mulched ground, leading my eyes to our constant blue skies. Its clumps of thick green needles filters the view however, giving me blue laced in green, which can be serene and poetic on some days, and frustrating on others. Would I have ordered the tree cut for that? I couldn't answer that. It was not my decision, but since when did we stop letting these voiceless creatures do anything but serve us, in life and in death?

The cutter let the top of the tree free fall into the shared community lane, no fancy rope work this time. He created evenly sized stumps of the rest of the tree, reminding me of the butcher block my grandmother and my uncle's family once used in their kitchen.

Could I get that? I almost ran up and asked, but a set of "At work" signs blocked my path, separating their worlds of precision, of danger and of execution from mine. Barely but just so. The blocks looked heavy, as the men strained carrying them from the road to the chomper, which churned louder and more urgent at the arrival of these heavy stumps, spraying out thicker clouds of chips that almost looked like plumes of orange fire and smoke.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


The irony that belies in the Labor Day weekend is that there is no labor in it. Not the financially compensated, mentally stressful, schedule driven sort anyway, one should hope. You are well praised for that thin film of sweat that graces your forehead at as early as 8am in the morning, if they are a result of all the exertion required to pack up your family, beach towels, surfboards and water bottles.

Once arrived, you will find yourself in the fine company of 10,000 other labor-day non-workers at the beach. The view is well worth it. The water is cold, making you shiver. Still you can't stand the idea of sitting around as the sun beats down on your skin in a way that is more than a little unpleasant.

So you dip your toes into the harmless layer of white foam at the water's edge, your feet still radiating heat from the hot sand you ran across to get here.

You seduce each other, water and you, dipping in and pulling back, like a pair of lover first testing each other's boundaries. Heat rises inside, the sun wants you too, as a small token of its growing collection of conquests.  But you long for the water, its cool tongue making your skin tingle. You kick it up, breaking its smooth lips into shattered white splashes that sparkle and then disappear under the hot sun, into the burning sand.

You catch some of its cool splashes too, all over from the top of your blistering scalp, to the reddening shoulder, and still curling toes. Then you succumb, and dive in.

The ocean, before we got closer that is

Why do we bother with what we do? The answer eludes you as you lay out catching your breath. The water, or is it the waves it throws at you, no, it's the swim - the willing effort you put up to tousle with such a cool and detached playmate - makes you spent, turned out like a useless piece of seaweed that has wasted too many lives swaying and floating aimlessly in the dark.

* * *

Since you have spent the day following rather than defying convention like you normally do, you rack up the evening by cooking for family and friends, rounding out that wholesome picture of the suburban you.  The result isn't bad. The diners go away happy as you collapse into a deep sleep that rarely visits you, wherever you may have fallen, fully clothed.

Stake Au Poivre, Country Potatoes and Mixed Greens Salad


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