Saturday, February 25, 2006

Pecan Trees

When my mother and her sisters were children, my grandfather planted a tree in their backyard that he had twisted into a loop and tied so it would grow in a circle. Years later, when I was a child and would play in that same backyard, that tree became the first one I ever climbed. It was small and had grown perfectly looped, making it easy for small hands and legs to hook into.

The trees were larger at my own home, and as I grew, so did my courage to climb them. (I’m not entirely sure that my mother knew how often I did this; it is probably one of those things best realized when your child is grown and safe already.) The woods around my home were rife with climbing candidates, particularly the pines behind the house. If there were a limb low enough for me to grab, I would latch on and throw my legs up like the tree was a set of monkey bars. I would climb as high as I dared and wonder at how different the landscape looked from up there.

Different friends had their own trees, and each tree had its own purpose. One friend’s giant pine served as the perfect water balloon bombing station. Another friend’s tall oak had large, long limbs perfect to imagine as the cockpit of the space shuttle, and we took turn being commanders.

As I got older I stopped climbing, but I still enjoyed the trees for other purposes. The shade of one on a summer’s day for reading. The trunks of two to stretch a hammock between. Watching maple leaves flip to their silvery underside, signaling impending rain. Snow coating bare branches, making everything drab and gray about a New York winter sparkling and beautiful.

I now live far from those trees of my youth, in a part of the southwest where there are no pine trees to make my hands sticky with sap and no snow to collect like diamonds on branches. There is a dearth of vegetation of any kind in the desert of central Arizona, popular opinion would have you believe. There are lots of trees here, actually. All of them were brought in by professional landscapers at great expense to make this harsh desert more hospitable. The most obvious are the palm trees, but the most striking are the pecan trees.

Pecan trees are large and sprawling. Their branches spider outward, begging to be climbed by courageous children or small animals. In the spring and summer, their lush foliage provides much-needed shade in the blistering heart of the desert. In the fall and winter their black trunks and spidery limbs are starkly beautiful against the blue desert sky. These trees towering over me feel safe and strong and permanent in a way that little in a city like Phoenix does. There is an organic vegetable farm south of the city that is open to the public that has dozens of these trees lining its driveway, and I look forward to each visit for the pleasure of walking beneath them.

Do you have a favorite tree?
This one, located in a suburb of Detroit, is mine:

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Red Toenails

I once read a story about an elderly couple still deeply in love after many, many years of marriage. The wife had always prided herself on the fact that she kept her toes perfectly painted. She did this herself, as women of that generation generally eschew having someone go at their feet with the sharp instruments that are used in professional pedicures. The years crept up and took a toll on her flexibility. Arthritis left her unable to bend over far enough to paint her toes anymore. One day, she was sitting outside enjoying a spring day with some family members when her husband noticed that her toes weren’t painted. He asked why, and she told him. And do you know what he did? He went into the house, got her bottle of red nail polish from the medicine cabinet, and sat down and painted her toes for her.

There are a couple of things about this story that get me. The first is obvious – the husband cares enough about his wife and her sense of pride in her appearance that he sheds his super-masculine identity for a few minutes to perform such a tender act of painting her toenails, which is a rather delicate operation. The image of his large, wrinkled, weathered hands cradling her little old lady foot sort of epitomizes long-term love to me.

The second thing that gets me about this story is that he noticed. She probably had no idea that he knew on a conscious level that her toes were always painted. Women don’t think men notice that sort of thing very much. He noticed, though. He knew it was a point of pride for her, he noticed when a detail as small as nail polish was missing, he cared enough to inquire why, and loved her enough to know that it is the details that help define a personality, even when the detail is as small and seemingly superficial as nicely-painted toenails.

For the record, mine are always painted too. Usually red, because red is for happiness, red is for love, and red is for luck. This of course means that I have happy, in love, lucky toes.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

French Martinis

1 1/2 oz vodka
1/4 oz Chambord® raspberry liqueur
1/4 oz fresh pineapple juice
1 twist lemon peel

I drank my first French martini at a cool, dark lounge called Merc Bar on a night when several of my friends, who were not the cool, dark lounge sorts of people, wanted to people-watch. Merc Bar was fancy. Merc Bar was expensive. Merc Bar was – gasp! – downtown. I went along under their guise of people-watching, but really I was salivating for this place. All I had heard for months from those in the know was how fabulous it was, how New York. And I too am New York. (And fabulous, I like to think.) So we would be a perfect match.

The man I was dating at the time was having a hard time financially, so it was definitely not the sort of place he would be taking me on a normal night out. His masculinity had finally broken through and after a period (quite a long period, I might add) of me paying whenever we went out if I wanted to enjoy his company at the same time, he refused to take me up on those offers anymore. But tonight was different; someone in the group must have browbeaten him enough to get him to go, so off we went.

It was marvelous. It was, in fact, cool, and it was, in fact, dark. The walls were upholstered in black leather. The music was chill ambient. The surgically-enhanced blondes were gunning for the attention of wealthy men old enough to be their fathers or, in one case, grandfather. Two men walked in together wearing their new millennium shiny club shirts, sat at a table opposite each other and didn’t speak a word for half an hour. They were too busy scoping for chicks. They left when no one threw their panties at them – too young and not rich enough, I suppose. I sipped my first French martini and watched this scene unfold in glee. This was a Saturday night and that was why the freaks were out. I knew that on a weeknight, when the gold diggers were home resting up and the people who enjoyed atmosphere were out and about, this would be the perfect place for me.

Three years passed before I had another French martini or visited Merc Bar again. I was on what has turned out to be my last first date with a man who was (and still is) captivating. It was a Monday night at the end of July. We had lingered so long over dinner that the restaurant closed around us, and Merc Bar was mere steps away. I remembered the ambiance. I remembered the French martinis. I didn’t want the night to end yet, so I suggested we stop for one or two.

Merc Bar on a Monday night is perfection, as I thought it would be. No fake boobs, no posers, no borderline-pedophiles. Just couples like us quietly chatting. We sat on a low couch with candles flickering on the table in front of us and enjoyed a French martini. We talked about our families. We enjoyed a second French martini. We talked about true love, love at first sight, soul mates. I knew what he drove without him telling me, and told him so. (He just struck me as a black truck kind of guy.) We talked and laughed and talked and laughed and we both knew, over three French martinis, that this was a very special first date. And the bar closed around us.

We finished our drinks and walked out of the bar, slowly through the tiled outdoor walkway towards the parking garage. It was drizzling, another treat in the desert on a hot July night. We sat on a bench in the rain, him slightly behind me with a leg around me, me leaning back onto his chest. We talked a bit more, then I turned my head back towards him, and he leaned forward, and before we knew it we were sharing our first kiss. A kiss in the rain tasting of raspberry.

A year and a half later, he is my first kiss of every day and my last kiss of every night. Thank you, French martinis.