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FIFTY SHADES OF GREEN
13 May 2014
I grew up in San Francisco. In San Francisco, I didn't know from "seasons." It could be hot in December, cold in June. Mark Twain is attributed with a quote I have read that he never actually said, but whoever made it up, it is appropriate: The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. It was always fun for the natives to giggle at the tourists standing on street corners in the summer, shivering in their shorts and short-sleeved shirts, thinking that because the sun was shining and it was summer, it would be warm. Silly people.
It wasn't until I moved to Berkeley, after graduating from high school, that I experienced "seasons." Oh I knew what seasons were supposed to be like, of course, but seeing them myself was a new experience. The Japanese cherry trees that burst into blossom in front of Newman Hall in the spring, the acacia trees that burst with yellow flowers in the summer, which smelled wonderful and caused a lot of sneezing among people living around them. People's lawns with spring flowers. Campus trees that turned orange in the fall. It was a whole new world to me.
In addition to not having seasons, where I lived there was not a lot of greenery. I look at pictures of the street where I grew up now and it is planted with shade trees. When I lived there, it was just concrete.
There was a big apartment building across the street from our flat (where the owner of Seabiscuit lived) and on the corner of that apartment building was a bush that bloomed occasionally, but to this date, I don't know what kind of a bush it was. (It may have been Scotch broom.) Any time there was an occasion where my parents wanted to have a photo taken, it was always standing in front of that bush. Years of photos taken standing in front of that bush! First communion, Easter Sunday, Christmas, birthday parties. Always in front of the pathetic bush!
If we wanted trees or greenery, we had to drive to Golden Gate Park, or out into the country somewhere.
This must have been difficult for my mother, who grew up on a farm and who has loved flowers and trees and greenery her whole life.
She and my father finally moved out of San Francisco sometime after David was born (so around 1972-5), and into a house in Marin County, across the Golden Gate bridge. Here there were trees and grass and though my parents' place didn't have a LOT of greenery because the back yard was mostly the pool my father loved so much, my mother could at least tend to some flowering plants around the edges and see trees and lawns when she went driving around town.
What she loved was to go for a drive somewhere green. I remember her marveling at how many different shades of green there were in Armstrong Woods, through which we drove to reach my grandparents' farm in Inverness. I saw (but did not read or save) an article the other day about how many shades of green human eyes are able to distinguish. Stand in an area of trees, grass and flowers some time and look around you at how different each green thing is. Sometimes the shades are blatant, but if you look at a hillside covered with trees, it seems that each tree is just ever so slightly a different shade of green from the ones around it. It's a marvel.
My mother doesn't leave Atria often. She spends her time sitting in her chair looking out on the courtyard beyond her patio and after a winter of complaining that the trees were so ugly without leaves, now she just loves how green they are, since they have leafed out.
The few times I have taken her out recently, her conversation is mostly marvel about how green things are, how beautiful the mature trees are. I took her out to see some yards when flowers first started blooming this spring and she loved that, but more than that she just literally luxuriated in seeing all the trees. It's a joy I cannot share on the same level. I see nice streets. She sees it on a whole different emotional level.
The other day I read about a plot of land in South Davis which had been planted in wildflower seeds and which was now blooming. I knew my mother had to see it. She would love it, I knew. I made it an adventure. I showed up at her apartment unannounced and told her I had to show her something. I wouldn't tell her what it is, just loaded her in the car and took off.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. The perfect day to see wild flowers. And it was beautiful. Poppies, and all sorts of other flowers in red, blue, purple and yellow. It was a feast for the eyes.
As I knew she would, my mother loved the flowers, but didn't want to get out to look at them more closely.
But I did and took lots of pictures, then we drove back to Atria again. While she loved looking at the wild flowers and I was very glad that we went to see them, it was still the tall, full trees on every street that we drove that seemed to give her the most pleasure. In fact, I tried to drive home on the streets where there were the most trees because it was so much fun listening to her exclaim about how beautiful they were.
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