We were sprawled on the back lawn, in the shade of the neighbor’s towering pine tree, the only tree they’d left standing after they moved in. Their yard had been filled with five or six other pine trees, but for one reason or other, they’d all been felled. For a time we feared the neighbors would take down our pine tree, as well.
(I say our pine tree simply because the tree stands just feet from the fence, and it casts its shade completely in our yard, cooling it on summer afternoons. We know the tree belongs to Valbino and Maria, but the only use they derive from the tree is as an end to their clothesline; there are many other things that could serve this purpose.)
Ultimately our pine stayed. I’ve been curious why its life was spared. I suspect it may be because Valbino recognizes the pleasure we derive from the tree, but I’ve never brought myself to ask him. My Spanish is rudimentary (donde esta el bano), and coarse (pendejo, cabron). Valbino’s English suffers from similar limitations. When we collaborated to repair the back fence, the result was a meandering mess.
As I say, we were sprawled on the back lawn, in the shade of the neighbor’s towering pine tree. The thermometer on the shed read ninety-five degrees, and I had no reason to doubt its accuracy. Fortunately, the shade was much cooler.
Kris sat with the cats, scritching Toto’s ears, watching Simon loll in the grass.
I lay on my back, leg braces off — hallelujah! — performing my physical therapy exercises: leg lifts from the left side, leg lifts from the right side, leg lifts from my back.
Between sets of exercises, I spread my arms and let myself sink into my surroundings. I felt the grass on my arms and legs, an ant crawling across my foot, felt the warm sun where it peeked through the screen of the pine. I smelled the freshly mowed lawn (thanks, Mac!), listened to the birds, the sirens, the passing cars.
I soaked it all up. After two weeks spent inside the house, it was something of a sensory overload. I loved it.
This was a moment to relish.
Toto stretched and yawned and squeaked a little meow. Simon pounced on a moth and devoured it.
“This is a pretty meaningless existence,” I said to Kris, meaning life as an invalid, recovering from knee surgery. “I cannot imagine living like this for an extended period of time.”
Kris smiled, touched my hand.
I continued. “There’s nothing in the life I’m currently living to give it any meaning. There’s only the bed and the television and the computer. I may have derived my meaning from these things once, but now I obtain meaning from photography class, from soccer practice (“Not anymore,” Kris said), from, believe it or not, work, from spending time with friends, from going out with you.”
We sat in the shade a while longer.
“Come with me,” Kris said, and she gave me a garden tour, showed me the green strawberries, the vaulting foxglove. She showed me her first cucumber and our bumper crop of peas. She pointed out her new clematis vine.
Typically I’d wilt on a ninety-five degree day. Not today. Today ninety-five degrees was perfect.