I planted a tree today. A baby orange tree, in my backyard.
There used to be a lemon tree there, but we use a lemon maybe three or four times a year and it produced hundreds, all the time, so we were always picking up moldy lemons from the backyard. So in 2019 we had the lemon tree taken out and a baby orange tree put in that spot.
(This whole accursed valley was, once upon a time, full of fruit orchards instead of advertising companies; it was called the Valley of Heart's Delight. and you can still see the legacy of that time in the citrus trees poking up from behind random fences all around the suburbs.)
The orange tree didn't do well. Its leaves curled up after the transplantation and never fully opened again. It grew a few small oranges, once, which the squirrels made off with. I tried to coax it into new growth, but the best I could do was to keep it barely hanging on to life. I was maybe watering it too much? Or not enough? Or its roots didn't have enough room to grow, or it wasn't getting enough light, or the soil was the wrong pH? Every time I looked out the window and saw it struggling for life it was like an indictment of me personally, a reminder of my failures.
The smoke and darkness in the air from the California wildfires in 2020 finally finished off that poor tree. One more death, barely noticed among countless casualties of that awful summer. It died as we were packing up a go-bag in case we needed to evacuate. I can taste the ash in my mouth when I think back to it. Even if we escaped the fires, where would we go? There was no place to evacuate from the pandemic, or the disintegration of democracy, or the racist system that lets cops murder people.
Anyway, it's march 2021 now, and somehow we're still here. They say the burned redwoods of Big Basin state park will recover. My wife and her parents are vaccinated now. Democracy is... back to disintegrating at its regular, slow pace, chronic instead of acute. The murderous system is still murderous.
Today I spent a long time digging out old roots, applying special citrus-tree fertilizer, planting the new tree, mulching and watering it. My daughter was old enough to help a little, this time, although her attention span is short and she kept wandering off to do dirt experiments.
Planting a garden, like raising a child, is an act of faith in the future. I don't actually have any faith in the future, but I'm acting as if I did. Maybe acting is more important than believing? Maybe it's the next best thing. A nice thing about children and gardens is that they're negative entropy. You get to see something that grows and gets better day by day, in contrast to the rest of the world where everything's always getting worse.
Why plant a new orange tree, in the same place, when it might just die again, since whatever hostile environmental factors killed the old one might still be there? Why let myself care about something that might just break my heart again?
Why start a new
blog* online writing project, today (7 years after shutting down my old blog website), when the hostile environmental factors (the internet, my brain) that killed the old one are definitely still there?
"The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best time is today" as they say. In other words -- don't let the failure and regret of the past stop you from planting something today.
I might not have any faith in the future of the internet, my ability to keep a website going, or my ability to write consistently. But maybe if I start doing the thing first, hope will follow. Maybe I'll be able to keep this tree alive. Failure is not certain.
After 5 years of child-induced sleep deprivation, 4 years of the trump administration, and 1 year of COVID lockdown, I am kind of a wreck right now. I know I'm not alone.
But it's Spring, I'm replanting my garden, there's a light at the end of the COVID tunnel... the insurrection to overthrow the election failed so I'm no longer planning on needing to flee the country quite so immediately...
My kid just turned 5 and she's a lot easier to deal with now (she's gonna be starting kindergarten!). I'm actually sleeping well again...
I just finished a big project at work, too. I mean a project I've been working on since before the kid was born. It's released!
Because of all these things, it feels like I finally have a chance to take a deep breath now. Like this is a good time to reset and think about what I wanna do with the rest of my life.
Every spring there's a certain tree that blooms around here; its flowers open in the evening and make a very distinct smell, a kind of cloyingly sweet old-lady-perfume smell. Somebody told me it might be Mock Orange or Orange Blossom or some other kind of tree that has orange in the name but is not an orange tree. I don't know. But every spring when I smell that smell it takes me back to the spring I first moved to this coast, thirteen years ago now, when I took a job at [well-known internet company], when I felt like I had finally made it, finally broken into the big time, I was about to be part of something amazing... that's a story for another time. The important thing is: that smell reminds me of things beginning.
So let this
blog writing project be a way to start reconstructing my wrecked self. Maybe learn how to create again. Maybe learn how to hope again.
* - "blog" was always a gross, terrible-sounding word, and though I greatly miss the golden age of blogging I am happy to let the word "blog" itself die a well-deserved death