The tree guys under contract to Georgia Power have been out for the past week or so, trolling the streets of the neighborhood with their bucket trucks; their orange flags and cones; they are paring branches to keep the power lines taut and unsnapped — too late for the “blizzard” three weeks ago but just in time for another growing season.
A few nights back some strolling pranksters spray-painted the word “riot” beneath the sign they set out that warns: men working.
On the cusp right now, and the leaves are little more than a pale green haze haloing the tree limbs; so tender.
Every year, our neighbor Blue House Joy requests a driveway’s-worth of cast-off chaff straight from the chipper for her garden and its beds. And in service of that exchange, what a hour ago was part and parcel of the scrim between us and the sky has been turned into a six-foot pile of mulch, newly dumped and steaming gently at the bottom of her driveway.
All that’s left — mere wood; it’s had the life crushed from it; possesses a manure-like smell. Wisps of steam slip from it as if it were a live thing, a bulked big-shouldered cow standing patient for the farmer outside some Midwestern barn at twilight, breath visible and rising from its nostrils.
The denuded trees are black in the rain, grieving their rended selves, and I am walking past, fidgeting sorrows like coins worn by long handling in my pocket — I do not do enough, or well, or have enough time; I am aging, gaining, tiring, I have worries and gray hair, I have not turned out to be the person my younger self expected. This is the currency the middle-aged sometimes carry with them; how exactly do we spend it?
When I was eleven, I watched an older cousin, tawny-haired and tan, change into her swimsuit during a family trip to the beach and thought: I will never reach the place where she is. Meaning: grown. Thought: well, maybe it’s breasts that do it.
When I was a senior in high school, I thought maybe college would make me an adult. In college, I felt sure it would come with the 9-to-5. Once there, I thought surely it came falling in love. Once there, I figured it had to be a side-effect of marriage. Once married, I decided it was kids that would do it once and for all.
But now, maybe, I really know: it’s parking in the hospital lot when one’s parent has been admitted inside that takes you closer to grown than anything else that’s come before.
The regional hospital that’s become, as they age, my parents’ own, reminds me that I live in Georgia. Itl succors anyone in need from the surrounding little towns; there are cars with plates from five counties in the lots. A guy in overalls outside the sliding entrance doors, talking on his cellphone, and let me tell you, he’s no hipster who pulled them on ironically this morning.
There are three generations holding vigils in the waiting rooms: brothers, sisters, wives and husbands; children; grandchildren; two women holding newborns about the same age — are the two mothers sisters? cousins? Are the two-identically cashew-curled babies cousins themselves, and how many times removed would that make them? One of the woman is already noticeably pregnant again; I flip through old Better Homes and Gardens and try to do the math.
The heart floor is always busy, as is the new wing for babies. We should all get jobs in health care!
All over the hospital there are families dodging bullets, or taking them, and people talking seriously on their cell phones.
My mother was discharged, with admonishments to slow down; the dogwoods began to unfurl their creamy white blossoms;
the mulch pile at the end of the neighbor’s driveway steams, so wispy and quick, like something alive.