the tree climber

"cliché oak" by bogdog dan via flickr

There it was, that lovely old oak tree from the far back yard, leaning precariously towards the house. It was at nearly a forty-five degree angle and the dirt at its base was lifting up. When had that happened? How long would it be before it came tumbling down? Would it reach the house, smash everything in its path?

I’ll bet you’re guessing that I will write about the fragility of life, the precariousness of the predictible which, in the end is quite its opposite. Certainly this tree which silently began to lean, a bit each day, threatening to smash my reality would be a perfect metaphor in line with many of my recent blatherings.

But no, I’d like to speak of the tree climber.

I’d passed them on the sidewalk as they were on the way to our house. They looked out of place on our quiet block, dressed in flannel shirts and heavy jeans, carrying ropes and straps. One of them looked particularly rough, a woolen neckscarf pulled up to cover everything but his eyes as though he were a gang member, or a bandit.

“I know where you’re going,” I said, smiling, and the looked at me oddly.

They began, I was told by my husband who joined the group, with one climbing the tree in question, the others by its base, listening. The man climbing was stopped, because they heard it. My husband didn’t hear it, his ear unattuned to the sounds of a tree. Was it the crack of its roots tearing from the soil? The groan of its trunk as it shifted?

We watched, rapt, from one of the bunny’s rooms as he climbed high in the trees next to it, deftly attaching his ropes and swinging like spiderman, removing, one by one, the heavy branches. We gasped as they fell, these heavy branches, only to sigh with relief as the ropes tethered to them held them off the ground and then eased them down almost lovingly.

I spoke with them, in Spanish, something that always seems to surprise. My appearance hides many of the things I am. I asked the tree climber about this job of tree scaling, thinking somehow that he’d been born to this “art” (for really what they do is almost like a carefully choreographed dance). He hadn’t, of course, but rather had learned it out of necessity, a way to earn a living. How humbled and flattered they were that I even showed interest, or admiration for what he does. They are used to being ignored, invisible.

There is a whole body of people who work, quietly, silently, parallel to our little lives. Knowing other languages has helped me to get little glimpses in their worlds. They work so hard, these immigrants, day in day out, often physically, often for little pay, yet we denigrate them and make them unwelcome.

The man with the scarf covering his face, who looked so tough and intimidating, had such a sweetly shy smile.

We need to look beyond appearances. We need to look at what goes on in the background, to stop thinking that we are all that exists in this very multilayered, multitextured world in which we live.

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