Thursday, August 12, 2010


Sometimes you just have to be hit over the head with it.

On my way out of REI today - killing a little time before hitting the gym - I got whacked in the head by a falling catalpa pod. And it hit me (duh...): I want a catalpa tree. It's time. 

Now, as urges go, this is a strange one. A catalpa tree is an extremely impractical tree that only a medium-sized child, or a true sentimental sap, could love. Thing is, it's really not much of a coincidence that I got hit by catalpa tree debris: dropping things is what catalpas do best. Sort of like my dog, Cog, they shed three seasons out of the year. In the spring, they drop giant white flowers which look like a cross between a snapdragon and a rhododendron. The flowers are tough (which means that you can string them into really cool necklaces) and don't degrade readily in spring rain (which means that you have to pick them up). In the summer, the fruit starts coming down: long, bean-like skewers that could put a kid's eye out if you weren't careful. However, they are just long enough for swordplay. Then, like the flowers, they have to be picked up. In the fall, predictably, the leaves: large (huge, really), heart-shaped, and tough. So big that they clog the rake. But they make great piles which can be jumped in, and then (back in the day) the leaves could be burned - a kind of pleasant smell that came with the pumpkins and time to pick out Halloween costumes.

Few readers will be surprised at this point to learn that I grew up in the shade of a catalpa tree. For several years, my horse lived in the shade of our catalpa tree, too. Yes - I was a one-time horse owner, from the age of six (or so...) to nine (or so...). Timmy was made of wood, probably painfully, by my dad. I don't know if he had a pattern or plans, or if he freehanded the whole thing, though I suspect the latter.

Timmy was amazing and magical, and I knew that this was so because Daddy made him Just For Me. He was white, when he was any color at all, and he was suspended from the biggest branch of the catalpa tree that didn't hang out over the driveway or the street. (Did I mention that catalpas have a spreading habit? - something else to dismay the horticulturists among us...) I spent a lot of time riding Timmy - possibly where I got my first taste for the rhythmic motion of cycling (or more cynically, the origin of my depressingly slow cadence!).

I have no idea how Timmy got his name. At that age, things just get named, and you go with it. But I had a lot of fun out there, riding my horse, playing with swords, peeling the bark off of the catalpa tree (oh, yeah, they've got crumbly bark...) and watching the ants march up and down the trunk (...and the loose bark makes great habitat for carpenter ants.)

Somewhere, in the shady recesses of my brain, that tree took root. It's a metaphor for the quiet, peaceful, happy times that I remember from the last of my "make believe" years - especially the summers. So when that pod fell on me today, it was a wakeup call: It's time. Find your spot. Grow some roots. Twenty years - or twenty-five - or sometime - you'll be wanting to put up a swing in your catalpa tree. You'll want to plant it rather soon. 

Right now I've got...I don't know  - runners? Like a strawberry plant, I'm a bit of a biennial. I've got satellites all over the place - people I know/love/connect with who are widely flung. That's great. None of them are in Eugene. That's not so great. 

Clearly I don't have all the answers yet - but I'm getting closer, and I'm feeling some urgency to make some changes by the time fall rolls around. In the meantime, blueberries and blackberries are coming on hot and heavy, the best of Oregon weather is upon us, and the riding is danged good.

And I'm going to share an unexpected musical treat. This is a portion of my daughter Nancy's (first) trumpet concerto. It's an electronic rendering; the world premiere is as yet unscheduled, but - watch this space. I think it's pretty nice.

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