Sunday, April 15, 2007

Shedding maple syrup tears

Commentary by Jim Banholzer

What in the world has become of the sugar maple down by the Trail Creek riparian area behind the old Ski View Lodge? The builders said they would try to save it—let it remain standing broad and free—but now it's gone. Did a backhoe driver make an honest mistake in the mud? But, then did he laugh because he could? The wisdom tree full of unassuming beauty added an earthly atmosphere to conversations held in lemonade chairs underneath a colorfully cool dome of leaves.

A Wagon Days pioneer seeded this maple to bud outside his shack window. It impressed visitors with a PowerPoint presentation of nature. Its show was augmented by a waterfall, which purified our dreams every night. Sometimes a homeless person (also removed) would softly mouth-harp cool songs from rail-tied steps on the other side of the stream, in harmony with the tambourine percussion of leaves rustling from the tree. Just up the creek from a secret footbridge -- now too gone. Which school kids used to dash over on winter morns, with a rucksack full of Robert Frost crossing the snowy fields. Right where I laughed at Laura as she tried to save minnows one dry summer, frantically dipping a colander to transfer them into larger puddles as Trail Creek almost drained. Only realizing later that we'd be less polluted if more people cared about the environment as she did. This led me to suggest running a hose from the shack into Trail Creek.

The quaking tree behind which Maddie once chased a spring bear from off our deck. An event for which she received a tiny Ursa Major medallion forged by a silversmith in old Ketchum. That which she proudly displayed from her collar on special occasions.

The maple had tiny flowers blooming atop its crown in the springs. Not many make it here in this clime. The ones that do help visitors from Vermont feel more at home. Do they think less of us Idahoans now for allowing such a precious gem to be gone? No call came out over the scanner about jeweled butterflies chaining themselves to this tree, requiring security officers to go out with a net in Ketchum. Rather, in a minute of non-harmonic convergence, unthinking operators of intimidating engine power unceremoniously ripped out its heartwood with thrasher blades.

Magnificent magpies used to stage themselves strategically in the maple for table scraps from our cookouts. I, too, would stage blankets around its base, readying for late night shows from summer skies. Around its absorbing roots were planted heart- and Idaho-shaped rocks found over the ages -- these too now wiped for a clean slate.

The sweet sugar maple behind Ski View Lodge -- under which a full language developed between our dog and I. That which I would babble out next to the brook evenings, coming up with new nicknames for "Mooka-Palooka" every night. The language now deader than doornails sealing out highly defined streamed sounds from vacuous second homes.

Whose doormats will lie over the hallowed ground of our buried pets?

Was a frame carved from the Maplewood to hold up somebody's contract—sailing over a fractured renter's ship—on the wall behind a solid oak desk? Did somebody at least get to enjoy its luxuriant colors sparkling from a final fireplace? Or was I standing in the way of progress when a monster rig full of its captured pieces waited for me to limp displaced across the bridge to a new era? On its march to be tossed unseen into a remote incinerator—alongside rosebuds and vanities? Red-blooded leaves plucked fresh from the stream bank and branches stuffed into hoppers of untouchable money banks.

Will there be a historical plaque for the maple notched from its intelligent design? Or a few photos in faded albums around town? Maybe just an empty note for this weary hobo to sing, spiraling down memory lane, a tinhorn piping past the vortex nigh' the hollow stream?


jbanholzer said...

Here is a deeper story about the maplewood as I explained in this excerpt from an e-mail exchange between Trish MacGregor and I.:

Trish, After reading your episode about Kali the bird, I would like to share this story:

Two autumns ago, I was readying for a trip back east. A housemate and I shared a little cabin, in town, in Ketchum, but it was also a quiet little hideaway, tucked next to a trickling creek amidst some cottonwoods. I had a tent set up adjacent to the Sugar Maple in our yard. As I hurriedly prepared a tarp, to cover the tent before leaving, I swung my head hard to the left and a branch from the maple pierced through my ear into the side of my head. Alone and bleeding profusely, I rounded up our dog, grabbed a towel to press against my head and drove the 2.5 miles to the hospital. It’s a small hospital, but staffed well enough. Something deep inside me rallied me through the surgery. I seemed to have extra-powers that evening, as I encouraged the uncertain young doctor to try his best to stitch my ear back. (I truly believe that there are cases where if you act like a jerk, your quality of service level received is apt to diminish.) Then, a plastic surgeon just happened by, also encouraging the attending physician to try a certain style of stitching my ear and all was well.

After this trauma, something new was seeded in me. I started having this urge to write, could not, and did not want to stem the flow. I took that trip, writing my first column draft on the airplane. After submitting a few of these, I was welcomed aboard, though the karma there has broken apart since. Anyhow, while I was on that trip back east, I was informed that we had to move out of our little shack. I then remembered that a few weeks before my head injury, I had come up on the maple tree seeing something unusual sticking out from the suet feeder. I couldn’t identify what it was at first, then as I turned the feeder about in my hands I shuddered seeing that it was a poor blackbird’s remains who must have gotten stuck inside the suet feeder somehow while trying to get to the seeds. Clearly, to me this was such a bad augury that I strongly told myself that to keep from spooking my housemate Laura, I would never tell her that this happened. Only later did it occur to me that this pointy branch, which I had specifically sharpened for the suet feeder to easier fit onto years ago, was the exact branch that about knocked me out.

I’ve been a closer examiner of branches since that time. To me, it appears that the only branches in Idaho woods that appear to want to strike back at man are the same ones that man’s hands himself have sharpened. One last note: After moving out of that shack, I moved down the road into an older seedier place. The owner of that shack too has seen it profitable to kick me out since the commercial value of this property has also skyrocketed. This at least gives me great fodder for the outcomes assessment essay, I am about to get back to. The broad-ranging subject they’ve given us to write about is “disposability”.

jbanholzer said...

I’ve been stuck on thinking about this old tree branch episode. When I drove to the Emergency room, amidst all the bloody confusion, I believe that the rural Idaho physician was overwhelmed as far as inspecting my humpty dumpty head for any wound. As if it was yesterday, I distinctly remember while the blood was flowering out that I was being given a powerful message about life being too short for not investing valuable energy into meaningful writing passages.

If in fact, part of the ongoing gift I was handed that afternoon, is related to the trauma of that October day, here’s a possible underlying cause, which I have been contemplating: The whole reason, I had set the tent up under that seldom seen Maplewood, was that our dog, Maddie was becoming incontinent. My plan (from plan land) was to get little Maddie-Lou accustomed to sleeping outside in the tent, where she could stay out of the elements without ruining the shack’s interior carpeting. Maddie and I snuggled within the tent for two or three nights. Then one night became a bit chillier and she whined to return to her cabin. (Maddie-Lou’s Café) Soon I found myself sleeping alone inside the tent, with Maddie comfortably snoring beneath my old bed.

Another sign that the closing stages were close was one twilight while at my computer I saw a mouse pause to peek into my study. Neither Maddie nor Bob (the cool cat) noticed this mouse, and I started cracking up cackling aloud to both Maddie and Bob that they were not earnestly doing their jobs. Anyhow, sometimes I consider that it not so farfetched that much of the intensive concern I had for Maddie –taking her on the paper route, or out for carefree runs in the desert –or co-discovering trails where other seldom trek, (because Maddie was characteristically unsocial) was somehow painstakingly reversed polarized though that branch on that bright autumn Maplewood tear-shedding day.