When you’re not paying attention to the cycles of nature, fall creeps up quickly. Just a week ago I was wearing plastic Croc sandals while hauling my tub of teacher stuff to my Zoom classroom. A few days later I tracked down Jeff the school fix-it guy to learn how to toggle the thermostat in my distance learning cave.
After Halloween, I picked so many ripe cherry tomatoes that I filled the dehydrator with six racks of gooey goodness. Three days later, the tomato plants had toppled over in a gray, melted mass.
Luckily, the change from mild to cold has fleetingly beautiful moments. I wish I could say the same for the transition of my hair from blonde to gray.
Veterans Day was a rare respite mid-week. Most weekends I’ve been visiting my dad in Calavares County, so there hasn’t been much time to spend with friends or check out the state of decay in my garden raised bed.
LaDona called with an excuse to traipse around the neighborhood, which was once our ritual when we were both trapped at home in the early stages of the pandemic – before Zoom teaching and Zoom planning and Google Classroom grading.
My erratic gardening friend had found a map with the trees of our neighborhood, marked with 18 must-see locations. Its fall! What fun!
I learned some things about my nearby trees, including what a ginkgo tree looks like before it turns brilliant yellow. You just don’t look closely at a ginkgo tree until it’s so beautiful it stops you in your tracks.
Indeed, I knew how to identify the common sycamore tree; it is tall and has splotchy bark. The map also helped us identify red oak (now in full redness) and other “plantus obscurous.” Mostly, we learned that some of the trees in my neighborhood are really, really large. We learned this, map in hand, trying to find a tree that was hidden in plain view and towering directly above us.
The map was the Chico Avenues Street Tree Walking Tour. LaDona found it online, and used it as an excuse to lure me outdoors.
Last summer, we walked down almost every alley in our neighborhood, but never with the intention of identifying the trees. The Chico Avenues Street Tree Walking Tour map (download a pdf at https://bit.ly/36U6RUf), is courtesy of the city of Chico, the Chico Avenues Neighborhood Association and the Chamber of Commerce. We paused and squinted and deciphered to make sure we were at the correct roots and branches. That’s the point, of course, to learn a thing or two.
However, right now I need to spend more of my free time contemplating the lint in my navel.
I was edgy that day. I wanted to talk to my friend about personal gossip, pour out my troubles and elevate my heart rate. After half a dozen trees, I ended up being annoyed and nearly ruined our rare time together.
Love it or learn it
I recall a day in 2013 when I tracked down the guide “Wildflowers of Table Mountain” by Albin Bills. What fun! With the wildflower guide, I would learn so much about the tidy tips and eggs and saucers and shooting stars, and other plant names I probably now have mixed up and jumbled. The point of visiting Table Mountain in the spring is to feel as alive as the tiny things growing from the ground and to reach your arms as wide as the sky.
With that amazing wildflower book in my hand, I spent most of my time peering at the book balanced on my knees.
That’s how I felt recently walking with my pamphlet through my familiar neighborhood.
Is it good to learn a thing or two? You bet. Are there times when you want to gossip and enjoy a friend? Yes indeed.
We did identify some trees. Then we put the pamphlet away and discovered scratches on a fence that looked like a silhouette of a wolf and a splotch of paint that may or may not have been the outline of a dolphin. We also managed to solve a few of our problems and giggle like girls.