The bees are gone. Vanished. I read a national story about this some time ago and thought ourselves unaffected here, as we are by so many things. I hate bees. But I like cherries. We have several cherry trees, wild cherries, sour pie cherries, some amazing tasting Princess Anne cherries (or some similar name I’m confused with). All the cherry blossoms bloomed as they always do, but this year, for the first time ever, there are practically no cherries on any of the trees. The bees are gone.
With all the clearing of trees and housing developments spreading across the land, you can now safely say we live in suburbia. My sister and bro-in-law stayed out here the night before they left on vacation. The next morning, my sister complained she was kept up all night by helicopters. There are often helicopters out at night here, flying back and forth, and hovering around. They never have search lights. Sometimes off in the distance, to the east and north, you can see large groups of lights in the sky in uneven lines, hovering and moving slowly about. I remember a few years ago when helicopters were spraying the entire region with some chemicals from the air to protect trees. This, they did in daylight.
We have lots of underground streams here, being on ancient glacier land. My father and our neighbor dug a well when they first built their homes here, tapping into one. I remember as a child going to friend’s houses in distant housing developments, having a drink of water, and being completely disgusted with the muted, strange taste of their “city water”. I really couldn’t stand it – our water tasted like clear, fresh water. About 10 years ago we were notified by the county that we were no longer allowed to drink from our well, and needed to pay them to have pipes run underground to our house. The well water tested completely clean, and still does. But it’s for our health. Of course, my parents paid the money, and we have city water. The well is still in operation, but we only use it for watering the lawn. Our neighbor’s family still uses it for drinking. There is a benefit to having city water: when the power goes out, as it does frequently here during wind storms, we still have water. City water doesn’t depend on us having electricity, whereas the well required electricity to pump the water up to us. When the power goes out now, for days on end, we run garden hoses over to our neighbor’s house to give them water, and they run electrical cables over to us that are hooked into their generator. Since I moved back here, we no longer require their generator during power outages – I needed steadier, more abundant power for the computer systems.
If we want to “improve” our property in any way, or build anything new, before we will be issued a government permit, we have to pay for sidewalks to be built for the entire length of our property line that is next to the road. We do not get to choose who builds them, nor go through any bidding process. I like sidewalks, especially since people out here are often drunk and in big vehicles. I used to walk everywhere I needed to go in the city. Out here, if you walk, people eye you suspiciously. You can run, though.
There are far more fat people out here than in the city. Even the people who run. In the city, there is shame being seen eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Out here, you can sit right down next to them, fart, and be right at home.
People out here are more polite than in the city, mostly through silence. Out here you can easily get your face pounded for creating any ripples. In the city, there are just too many ripples, anyway, to be bothered. Except when they build up too much, in strange ways. In that event, the mind can just topple for a while, or some random act of violence will nicely suffice to right things.
Here, or there, I wear sweats and t-shirts mostly. And in either place I just hate when tying my sweats that I get my lower stomach hair caught in the tie and it pulls sharply. In both places I cut my own hair. But eating healthy here is far more difficult than in the city, where all kinds of specialty food stores are in easy walking distance. I have to plan strategically now, how I will obtain my spices.
In the city, when you stop to get gas, you’re within inches of hitting people and other cars with your car door, or trying to squeeze through and around the 4 or 5 cars that completely fill the gas pumping outlet. Go inside to buy something only if you want to risk having the person waiting behind you lash out in frustration at their wait for your spot at the pump. Out here, float on in any time, lay out a blanket on the oil-stained cement, and have a picnic if you like. Hell, you’ll probably make a new friend or two, and only regret it later when they release their years of pent-up crazy on you, their special commodity that finally really listens to what they have to say.
Do enjoy the air here, though, mostly devoid at least of the smell of machine fuels. Smell the grass, the trees, the bushes and flowers. Enjoy the silence at night, except for the occasional distant, barking dog, the flow of the creek, or the helicopters at night.
I noticed across the tall wooden fence that runs along the driveway leading to our house, separating our property from the adjoining housing development, one of the large houses there contained a family of black people. We had one black person in my high school, and he was a bit of a celebrity to everyone. A nearby house had a Japanese woman married to a white man, who met as a result of the military and married. They had two kids, and the girl was only slightly older than me. They lived in our basement while they were building their house. Linda, a girl slightly older than me, was very selfish and mean, but I didn’t have much choice of playmates with so few people around. It was funny when she rode the big red wagon down the hill, and didn’t turn before reaching the bank, and plunged into the thick green brambles and nettles that eventually led down to the creek. Her mom made strange tasting food. Big snowballs of chilled rice, slightly sweetened, sprinkled with some kind of seeds, to snack on throughout the day. Learning to eat with slippery, pointy chopsticks at such a young age. Chilled, soft, glistening marinated spinaches. Odd, white-faced dolls staring blankly, dressed in beautiful flowing colors. Some larger ones, locked in glass cases.
We always had to take off our shoes at Linda’s house. Everything was always so clean and well-ordered. The father always thought he was sick. I remember the first time the mother washed my feet, calling me in while she was naked in the bathtub, then sent me running along, barefoot as always in their home. The older brother had an elaborate electrical train set and town that captivated me, but I was always too young to play with it. The older brother, like Linda, was half Japanese, and had a bad temper. I remember him yelling at his mother often, calling her a “dirty Jap”. The father hated when a car would drive by on the dirt driveway, stirring up dust for him to breathe. He would rant. Eventually he starting having an oil truck come by periodically, just dumping oil onto the road, covering the road completely in front of his house. I remember how sticky it was on bare feet, and how it smelled, mixed with dirt. I don’t know when he finally stopped doing that. Nobody ever broke into our house, but he was often robbed. The doors became huge barriers, but nothing seemed to help. I remember hearing something about him turning to guns. He liked to feed crows slabs of meat, hung from perches of thick pipes. Crows will follow him down the road when he leaves, in a swarm behind him. The mother still sends me little Japanese treats to this day. I need to go visit her — she and my mom visited often. I was friends with a Japanese exchange student in high school, and the neighbor lady wrote some letters, and translated some letters to me, after the exchange student had returned to Japan. I showed one of the letters she wrote for me to the Japanese PE instructor to see what he thought. He was charmed, saying she wrote in a very old, traditional way. I suppose that explained why she would get embarrassed translating the letters from Masashi to myself — she said that men write very differently to each other than they do to women. It makes me wonder what Masashi might have been thinking as he read the translated ones from me.
Yesterday I went into Seattle to visit the Chiropractor, explaining the soreness I felt. He asked what I’d been doing to cause that. I told him, grave digging. He laughed, as did this slender, waving serpent of a woman in the room with us. Why were you digging graves he asked? The neighborhood children, I said. They mock me. They needed to learn. The both found this very funny. She asked me how many I dug, and I just told her they were shallow. Then he said, they were shallow graves. I told them about Spencer dying. He then made me feel so much better by twisting and snapping my body all around. I love him after times like that, despite anything.
I overheard the asian-looking naturopathic doctor going on about how much she hated the word “chink”. I asked her if people still actually used that word. She said yes. I asked her if she was Chinese. She said no. I asked her what her heritage was. She said she was an American, born here, as were her parents. I said, mine too, but I’m mostly Norwegian. She glared at me, irritated for a moment, then said, mostly Korean. I said, ah. Then I said, I know what you mean, it irritates me when people say this or that thing is “gay” when it’s bad or stupid. She said, she uses that all the time. I told her I’m going to start using “chink” then, purposefully, all the time. Chink. She put her hands on her hips and told me that her mother’s middle name was “Gay” so it’s no big deal. At this point the Chiropractor had come to the front desk. I pointed at him and said, yeah, and he’s a Jew. Then I saw this asian-looking guy back by the photocopier, and asked who he was – I hadn’t seen him there before. He said he’s a new chiropractor there. The naturopathic doctor told me, this asian-looking guy was her brother. I told her that I pitied her parents, having two health-obsessed people in the family. He then clarified that he wasn’t actually her brother and was completely unrelated. I thought, oh yeah, it’s the “you all look alike” thing she’s getting at, and imposed upon myself the rare condition of censorship. The new guy and I talked for a long time after that, about surprisingly unrelated and interesting subjects.
On the drive home, still in the city, heading toward the freeway, during the ebb of rush hour, I almost hit two pigeons that had tumbled out into the middle of the road during the frenzy of their copulation. Up the hill was a towering yellow-painted metal construction high above everything else, that was building more things below it. I thought, how much poetry happens that never gets written down. My cell phone was loudly simulating an actual bell phone ringing, with soothing, dreamy ambient tones mixed in behind it. This was a day for trance-like driving, though, uninterrupted, passing by everything with wind blowing, unmoving in a focus of zero, letting all the things underneath simmer and brew into acceptance once again, thought I wasn’t sure what I was accepting.
There were no blockages in the machine arteries on the way home. The tall, skinny, middle-aged clerk, with an orange-ish tan, cursed at and hit the keypad in front of him as I bought some milk and cottage cheese. He then thanked me and told me to have a nice day. I told him I’ll be thinking of him. I didn’t stay to watch his reaction. I didn’t tell him I’d be writing. I didn’t know.
The dogs came running, surrounding the car as I drove in, yelping and crying, wanting treats, or just some attention. We walked as a sniffing, exploring gang out the long driveway to the mailbox. Kids on bikes with thick baseball-looking shirts down to their knees hurried out of the way, for some reason, from our approach. I learned from the mailbox that the last large section of trees left to the immediate south are now gone, but that now I can get free tanning for a while. A man from over the fence at the housing development yelled over to me, nice dogs! I walked over to the fence and told him they were selfish and needy, yet sweet. He laughed. I smelled panic and tightness behind his skull. He told me that it’s a beautiful day. I told him that I love the smell of rain. He laughed again, then waited for me to say something. I said, I used to play every day where your house is, in the thick trees that went on in what seemed like forever in all directions. I love so much how bark feels, and that incredible green, wet softness of moss. Pulling on huge, bending branches, and getting thwacked in the face by some rogue tree. His contained, little yard was littered with plastic children’s toys, now abandoned. Maybe that’s why he was out here.
Oh, you’ve lived here a long time then? he asked. I looked at the gold plated bracelet he was wearing, and the pastel polo shirt, then back to the tightness of his face. I’ve come back recently, I said. Looks like you guys have some good property there, he said. Suddenly, I didn’t know if I wanted to kick his ass til he was in a bloody heap, or make love to him to make everything alright. Probably both. So I told him that I’d better be going. And as I walked back toward the house, my mind wandered to what was behind me. I could feel, nearby, out toward the thickening paved streets, the large evergreen towering like a sentinel, at the edge of the field of wildflowers, now isolated in its species, yet planted the year I was born. So thick and firmly rooted it was now. I wondered, of all the hundreds of years it might live and grow, just how many will remain to it before the pavement expands to accommodate more fat, pecking families in their misery and path to self-destruction for us all, and this evergreen sentinel is forced to fall?
Even the blackberries that were once there, impossible to kill, are gone. But for now, it stands, healthy and growing. Each trip to the mailbox, the dogs mark it with their pee. Kids walking on the road often stop to lean up against it for a while and talk. It continues to lead people to our house when they have not been here before. Sometimes I wonder if it might even have some awareness of the quick jitterings of things transpiring beneath it, in its long, slow and sweeping movement through time. I’ve seen how deeply the roots of evergreens can reach, and how wide. To think, one day very soon, it, too, will simply be in the way, of something.