God said, “Listen to the tree.”
And I did. It said, “Live!”
And it opened itself wider, not with desire,
but the way I imagine a surgeon spreads
the ribs of a patient in distress and rubs
her paralyzed heart, only this tree parted
its own limbs toward the sky—I was the light in that sky.
I reached in to the thick, sweet core
and I lifted it to my mouth and held it there
for a long time until I tasted the word
tree (because I had forgotten its name).
Then I said my own name twice softly.
Augustine said, God loves each of us as if
there were only one of us, but I hadn’t believed him.
– Martha Serpas, “As If There Were Only One”
I grew up in Arizona. Specifically, in a part of Arizona that was absolutely full of saguaros, but apart from the palm trees that resorts and malls had brought in, had few to no trees.
And here you can see no trees OR saguaros. Funny, that.
When I decided to move to Texas for college, I was entranced and only slightly disturbed by the sheer number of trees I found. My family now lives in an area of Texas notable for its extreme flatness and various patches of small, scrubby trees, but as you drive south you hit, first expansive forests of cypress, and then oak country.
See all that green stuff that looks like broccoli? Yeah, trees.
My university is located in a fairly wealthy part of town, and I always wondered why the roads and sidewalks seemed to be in such terrible condition as opposed to the sidewalks downtown. It really felt more like hiking sometimes, traveling down those narrow roads and hopping from chunk to sidewalk chunk like a particularly bottom-heavy mountain goat.
Sophomore year, one of my friends accidentally stepped off of such a chunk just as I was about to step onto it, causing one end to slam down onto my foot. “I’m fine,” I lied, trying to hold back the tears while wrapping my foot in Kleenex. But in my mind, I’d reached a breaking point. I was fed up with the broken sidewalks and cracked streets, and I wondered why no one had bothered to fix them.
It wasn’t that no one had bothered to fix them, as someone pointed out to me. It was that they couldn’t fix them. As soon as I heard the cause of the sidewalk cracks, I couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before.
It was the trees! Those beautiful oak trees that made such a great home for hawks, squirrels, and spiders alike had roots that were much thicker and deeper than the saguaros at home. Short of removing the trees altogether, there was no way to stop them from cracking the concrete.
I still miss Arizona. I miss the cacti, the palo verde trees, the arroyo in front of my high school. I remember racing dust storms and picking ocotillo flowers in the late afternoon. But I’ve grown to love Texas too, even if it’s still a little too green for my liking. And whenever I feel like I’ve run into a problem I can’t solve – which seems to happen more and more often as I get older – a walk to the nearby coffee shop always improves my mood.
Even if it means I have to do a little hiking to get there.