Sunday, March 28, 2004
This photo is of the interface between a tree and a wall's mural of trees. In the gap: a stone, some snow. The wall's concrete has abraded to the texture of bark. The dense stand of painted trees -- smooth trunks pale ghostly gray, leaves shocking red -- march up a steep, light green hill. The real tree, wedged into the hillside, is a field of fissured brown bark.
Further down the path the mural's heavily over-scrawled with graffitti.
Tree, mural of tree, photo of tree and mural of tree, graffitti. The semiotics get increasingly recursive. What was that Dogen said about a painted rice cake ?
As I walked the river path yesterday I saw a man about 30 yards ahead of me repeatedly leaning and reaching into the pathside shrubs. What was he doing ? Was he picking these ?
Or perhaps my fantasy botanist had finally materialized -- the grave and accomplished Mr Uva or Senesec of Weeds Of The Northeast -- and had come to identify my beautiful nameless grass
and offer me further deep and esoteric botanical teachings.
So I quickened my pace, and soon caught up with him.
He was a middle aged, bespectacled fellow, neatly dressed, with a close-cropped, dark and professorial beard. He seemed a bit flustered to find me standing at his side. "I'm removing the orange tags," he explained, brandishing a handful of small plastic orange ribbons he'd removed from bushes. Sure enough -- the whole length he'd come was free of them.
"So you're the tagger -- or the detagger, as it were," I replied, trying to appear friendly and non-threatening. "I'd always wondered about those orange ties."
"Well," he said, "they're to mark what shouldn't be cut, but look, I think some kids have just tied them randomly to plants -- there are ties even on annuals tnat are clearly dead. I think it looks much better without them."
Annuals ! He was using terminology ! I grew more and more excited. This was it. He'd come, my weed messiah. My taxonomic redeemer. This was the apotheosis of my half year riverbank pilgrimage. The guru had arrived.
"Are you a botanist ?" I blurted.
"No !" He recoiled as if from a mild slap. Or from a possible nutjob.
"Oh," I said, crushed, then explained I'd been trying to identify a grass species for months, and had hoped he'd know.
"I see," he mumbled, then was silent. He looked embarrassed. I'd apparantly encountered the only person on the planet shyer than myself.
"Well, then," I said, trying to sound chipper, "carry on !"
He turned back to his methodical harvest, and I ducked down a small trail to the riverbank. The recent snow was melted, and I searched for the bank's little marvel, the ultimate conversation of artifice and nature --
There it was.
I eavesdropped awhile on its teachings, and headed home.