Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Weeping Willow

My kids love to play outside. Now that the gray Winter and long, weird Spring have given way to Summer, they ask every day if they can go outdoors. We have a great fenced backyard, which has been fabulous and already worth its weight in gold. I'm not sure how you measure a fenced-in yard, but I think it would be quite a bit of gold. The sun stays up later now, allowing the girls to romp and dirty their feet while I make a range-free, hormone-free, extra organic, low sodium dinner. Sometimes we eat on the back porch and wait for lightning bugs to tell us it is time for the kids' bath.

The yard is on a slight slope, and it is full of grass and tree roots and flowers and brambles and wild onions. All of this is fine except for when one wants to ride a bike. Moira has been buying into the child's dream of bike riding. She feels that she must practice this art on a daily basis in order to stay on par with other 5 year olds the world round. The back yard is just not conducive to riding a bike. When she is older and has some thrill-seeking issues the back will prove to be helpful. But not now.

This is why, when Moira asks if she can go outside, she also asks if she can go play in the front yard. We have a nice sized front lawn for small kids. It is big enough to throw a ball around and have impromptu ice cream picnics. But it is also un-fenced, and close enough to the road that adult supervision is necessary. Therefore, front yard playing opportunities are more rare than the other kind. If there is time after dinner or during a Saturday afternoon, we trek outside to the front lawn. Moira grabs her bike and rides up and down the driveway until she has covered enough miles to make sufficient progress in her quest for bike riding perfection.

Sabra runs towards the road and laughs, eats dirt, and throws handfuls of grass in the air. We have some lovely sidewalk chalk from my friend Kristi, and it can be lots of fun. The girls scribble daisies and random letters on the driveway. Sabra has started a weird licking phase, so sometimes we catch her behind the bench making out with the chalk. In all, a good time is had by all.

This weekend, we were out enjoying some lazy late afternoon time in the front yard. Moira was peddling back and forth, and Sabra was sprawled out in the grass just begging chiggers to come nuzzle her sweet belly. It was a little bit warmer, and I wanted my alabaster skin to be free from the rays of the wicked red sun. I walked over to the large tree that stands sentinel between our house and the neighbors.

We've lived in this home since November, so this is our first time witnessing what kinds of weeds and pollen grow in our yard during the months of Prime Allergy Season. Despite our non-green thumbs, we also have some flowers (at least for now). The big guard tree is my favorite. When we were looking at the house for the first time, the tree was covered in bright pink leaves. I love the greens and golds and reds of Fall, but this beautiful tree stood out. It had a kind of glow, like the warm colorful light that a candle gives out. There was no flame, just color.

Before I wax eloquent on trees and urge you to plant one in honor of Arbor Day, I'll proceed.

I sought shelter beneath the big, beautiful old girl. Her leaves are now wide and green. I stood under the tree and noticed something new.

I'm 5'6-5'7, depending on which doctor's office is measuring me. The tree is tall enough that I don't have to bend or stoop to stand underneath. But it hangs so low that the bottoms of the branches reach my knee.

Through the gaps of foliage I can see the street, the cars, the garish lawn of the house across the street. (They have large ceramic bears and fake flowers on the mailbox alone and don't get me started about what they did for Christmas.)

I can see the world, but I'm also a little bit hidden. It feels calm and cool and soft under this tree.So I stayed for awhile, watching the girls and enjoying the smell of dewey grass.

It reminded me of a gallery exhibit I saw eight years ago, and I was glad for the memory.

My friend Beth procured some tickets to see the Claude Monet exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum. Knowing how much I admired his paintings, she invited me to attend. Like any Monet fan, I was thrilled to see his thick gloppy paintings up close. His Giverny pictures are beautiful, despite that they are now plastered on everything from keychains to bookmarks.

Seeing an original piece of art is just amazing; there is no way to describe the feeling. I know that I feel elated, humbled, awestruck, giddy and contemplative.

Beth and I walked around the exhibit, taking our time to listen and read and just enjoy.

And then....then I came across a painting that literally stopped me. My feet would only walk towards the swirls of color, and nowhere else.

I'm not sure how long I stood there. My eyes were trying to memorize the patterns, the pastels, the dizzying twists of his brush. The painting had feeling, and it spoke to me. (Not in a scary way though. Don't be alarmed.)

I found a domo (duomo?) to tell me about the painting. What I discovered is that the painting was called, simply, Weeping Willow. Like many of his other works, this painting shared its name with several others. Thus we have Water Lilies 's 1-973. I'm not sure how many Weeping Willow paintings there are, but the exhibit had two hung side by side.

The first Willow painting was full of color, and just below the tips of the branches you could make out the field beyond. There were gaps in the overhung branches, and bits of sky like lace were weaving in and out of the leaves. The next Weeping Willow had all the colors of the first painting. Most art has a surprising amount of color when viewed up close. But at a few feet's distance, this second tree was mostly green and brown, and even a little blue. The viewer was looking directly up into the tree, and no sky or neighboring field could be seen.

The art gallery person (is it domo?) told me that Monet had painted the first one simply because he loved his gardens. He painted it for the same reasons he painted anything: he wanted to. The second painting, however, was a labor of love. He painted several pieces to honor the fallen French soldiers of World War I.

I might be reading way too much into it, but it seemed as if I could literally see his pain.

Using the two paintings, I contrasted what the world before and after war must have felt like. The first showed hopeful expectancy, life brimming with joy and the desire to look up and out to the world beyond. The second showed more lifelike colors, somewhat repeated and perhaps a bit drab after awhile. There was only the tree, wrapping its arms around you. Nothing was to be found overhead, there was no urge to peek past the branches. There was a comforting, if somewhat sad, closeness about the colors swarming together. While the first Willow was precise (if this term can ever be used for Monet) the second Willow ran into itself, not sure where to begin or end.

I loved the short memory while standing under my tree, my own original. I didn't make it, but there is something breathtaking about it. Mine isn't a Weeping Willow. I would love to have a Willow someday. They comfort me in some primal way that I can't explain. No, I have a different tree in my yard. If I were botanically inclined, I could tell you exactly what it was rather than what it is not.

But for now, my unnamed tree is keeping me quite happy. I enjoy standing under the shade, knowing that I am free to look out or stay hidden. It is my own little haven, complete with cool breeze, damp air, and bugs galore.

Happy Arbor Day. Go hug a tree. Just watch out for the bowtruckles.

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