Willow oaks (left) holding hands with elms near Mary Munford Elem. Credit: Scott Turner
Something seems different today. The same old receiving line of trees along Cary Street Road measures my progress toward The Fan, but today this rank and file of Plant Kingdom “Who’s Who” are not retreating into the daily blur of images streaming past my truck windows. One by one the arboreal dignitaries lean in to greet and distract me, causing my eyes to climb their trunks and explore their canopies.
What a great elm tree there on the right near South Wilton Road! An old beauty with the slender arches of a cathedral. Arches designed to lift up the human chin and eye in lofty contemplations. Though on many other days I rush irreverently past, today the aspirational design is affective. I find myself admiring those arches even as they disappear over the top of my windshield, and then . . . . “Yikes!!!”
I bow sharply forward with the other passengers when my foot finds the brake pedal, the wheel rotors receive the tight ceramic squeeze, and the attached body of the truck stops faster than our own loosely belted upper bodies. I made that silly sound “Yikes!” to feign control and mask my “Oh Shit!” recognition of that other car stopped immediately in front of us. No near collision here, girls. He, He, he. Just a funny little fast stop. Brooke groans “Daaady!” from the back seat while rummaging the floorboard for the Kindle that was separated from her lap. Anna rolls her eyes from the front passenger seat and changes the radio station. Woops.
An ancient cedar. Credit: Scott Turner
This driving the kids to school thing is not my regular gig. By 7:30 a.m. on a typical weekday I am knee-deep in the daily struggle for small-business survival. Already knee-deep but for a brief fully conscious a.m. moment holding fast to the daily small-business pipe dream that today will be the day that everything goes well. I deserve it. I’ve worked my ass off for it. Hell, today is my day!!!
My eyes might just as well still be closed. The Tree Gods (It is with hard-learned respect that I capitalize “Tree” and “Gods”) have little appreciation for such man-made chimera, and ring the bell of my smart phone incessantly to alarm me awake to an appropriate if not a fair reality. No, once again it will not be easy today, not fair or justified. Those Gods we find in the Mount Olympus vicinity of our psyche, those making themselves known through chaotic natural forces or by modeling chaotic human nature, are rarely reasonable. A mere mortal must merely assume the abuse he receives at the hands of such Deities is normal, or to be expected, but not necessarily justified. And so with each ring of the smartphone bell the dream of entitlement collapses, and the hard, unjustified reality of tree-care business survival ensues. Praised be the Tree Gods!
Some days I hustle back and forth on Cary Street Rd., forth and back, as many as 10 or 12 times a day pacing the pavement from my driving seat while a blur of green, brown, and grey smears itself on my side windows. Eyes fixed forward, I am sucked through the tunnel of tree columns and the tapered opening in the green blur towards the next task or to put out the next fire. And no matter how quickly or often I pace, I am always a day late and at least a dollar short.
Tall sweet gum near Lock Lane. Credit: Scott Turner
No reality bells ringing this morning, though! I am unavailable to the phone while driving my children to school, so those meddling Gods must wait their turn. This huge change to my daily rhythm was self-imposed when I encouraged my wife against her better judgment onto a sled in the dark of a February winter night at Southampton Elementary. After pitching down from the top of a long snow-covered slope, her sled became a perfect strike aimed for the backstop of a baseball diamond. To protect Brooke, who was folded up at the front of the sled, Amy stuck her foot out to brace the impact and crushed her heel in the effort. Crushed her heel, and pretty well crushed out and smoothed over any ruts the Turner’s may have been digging with their daily routine and repetitive life rhythms.
Over the years I have learned to value disruptions to highly repetitive life rhythms. With any such disruption there always comes a new view or a fresh perspective. Over the last 8 weeks, in addition to a very deep look into our kitchen sink, our dishwasher, and our clothes baskets, I have also enjoyed this wonderful opportunity to look deeper into a weekday sunrise and to share the start of a school day with my daughters, who I used to not even see until after work. And as is usually the case, when inspired by the youth of my daughters I find myself more interested in the natural world around me. Old paths become new and surprising again.
And so this morning I find myself allowed to share two fresh pairs of eyes. Freshly-dressed-and-ready-for-a-new-school-day eyes. Eyes that laugh when they see busy, important-looking dogs out for morning walks and intestinal relief. Eyes that admire the way the Homeric dawn lays its fingertips of rose so gently on buildings and cars as well as on humans and trees. With my borrowed 11 or 14 year old eyes the morning is open and inviting, and the fabulous blend of nature and architecture that is the near west end of Richmond becomes interesting and promising. It looks like a world in which I could do or become almost anything. A world in which I am happy to be living and raising two daughters.
And in this frame of mind, with these eyes, I notice a staccato row of evenly spaced old cedar trees leaning into my perspective from the right. I notice magnificent Tulip Poplar trees emerging from the green blur on the left. I pass under that wonderful Elm cathedral, screetch to a stop, and then a bit more carefully notice another row of very old Cedar trees who must have welcomed countless millions of humans entering Richmond from the west. Tall, bright green Sweetgum trees enter my foreground, an impressive row of them on the right between Virginia Ave and Lock Lane, almost diving through my windshield as I glance up while passing under. I notice the spotted trunks and wrinkled foliage of Sycamore trees, and the bumpy and warted witch-like skin of Hackberrys. I play a game of London Bridges with Willow Oak trees that hold hands above the pavement with Elm trees beside Mary Munford School. Farther east there are some old Elms on the right alternating with newer generations of the more disease resistant Zelkova, and on the left a Cedar tree that has been growing in that spot since a time when the Cary Street Rd. speed limit was determined by the athleticism of horses. When I finally emerge from the green tunnel at Carytown, I have been greeted by 220 to 250 trees along the roughly 1 mile long receiving line. That’s the best count I could make without further sacrificing the safety of my family.
In the museum district I drop off Anna, who is becoming way too cool and tall to offer me public displays of affection, but still looks back before entering the building to smile and exchange with me a sideways peace sign. I run Brooke straight back out Patterson to her school near Gaskins Rd, and in the car alone we often talk about the Greek Gods and their role in the modern “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” books she adores (that’s “PJ&O” if your 6th grade cool). Those Gods are still just good entertainment for her, and havn’t started meddling too much either with her external earthly affairs or her internal sense of well-being. I still get a kiss from this one when I drop her off, an “I love you Daddy,” and to not be left out of any connection I may have with Anna she also throws me a mimicked sideways peace sign before disappearing inside.
An hour of life and the beautiful nature of Richmond re-discovered thanks to a crushed heel. When the transportation task ends I power up the phone and find it already ringing. The day falls apart. Same old same old.