lundi 2 mars 2009

Shave and a haircut, two trees












Linden trees, left and right

not done and almost done


It's February vacation, or just past it. Time to prune the linden trees.

This ritual in the garden takes place every two to three years. Audouin used to do it, but I have taken over the task, because he works hard, and because I can.

Why do we do this? Because if we don't, the trees will grow taller and taller, until they dwarf the house completely and block all sunlight from the top terrace and the inside of the house. Since all but two of our windows face the terrace, this would not be acceptable. They were planted as ornamental lindens, with a nice round top, one on either side of the terrace; part of that one-two symmetry that is all over the garden. So, every couple years when I am back from skiing, I get out the ladders, the chainsaw, a long extension cord, I and cut the branches off at their bases, the clumpy ends of the main branches. These will sprout new, supple branches in a matter of weeks to form a new canopy of diminutive proportions, providing a sheltered nesting place for some of our garden's birds.

This actually works very well, too, that it happens to be the linden tree pruning year because if we ever get the work done on the outside of the house, I will be completely turning over the old lawn, ordering a delivery of real, good topsoil and planting my lawn.

Again.

The delayed leafing out on smaller branches will help the grass to come in.

Again.

Sam came up from parking his scooter at the bottom of the garden and stopped to talk to me, up in my tree.

"How was your day?" His first back since his bacs blancs and two weeks of vacation.

"Sucked." It's automatic. "Oh! Do you remember that I said that I got my history and geography bac blanc back the Friday before vacation? Well," he didn't give me time to answer, "I didn't. I was sure that I had, and that I had a bad grade -- the 6 [they are graded out of 20, and single digits are all too common] that I thought I got? I didn't. She handed them back today."

"How did you do?"

"A 9. I was really happy." Only in France. "That's like a 12 on the bac." 12 on the bac. A good grade, believe it or not. There is no such thing as grade inflation here. It's more like grade depression. If he's happy, I'm happy.

"Did you give your notes to your teachers?" I had had him write notes of apology for his less than bright and shiny attitude in class to his teachers, all of them. He wrote it a week before vacation and then did nothing with it until I insisted last night. It was a good note, too. I decided that it was time to teach a lesson in the powerful and seemingly magic effect of changing one's own behavior and seeing how that impacts a relationship. If his teachers are more than annoyed with him, it's not entirely their fault for failing to appreciate him.

"Yeah."

"Did any of them read it in front of you?"

"No, but Madame Martin told Madame Foubert [the head teacher] about it."

"And? Did Madame Foubert seem pleased?"

"Yeah. And if you don't believe me that I did it, I still have the one for my math teacher in my bag because I didn't have math today, and I think Madame Foubert is going to mention it to you."

"Sam, see, you can trust me from time to time, and come back out here and help me get all these branches down to the burning pile."

Strike one up for the mother. Eat a little shit now, eat far less later.

A few minutes later, it was nearly the Moosesucks Chainsaw Massacre. The ladder slipped, the chainsaw running and weighing heavy in one hand. The other flew out to grab the nearest thing, and I edged my hip into the closest tree branch.

"Sam? Sam, can you come here please as fast as you can?" I tried to sound calm so that Audouin would not panic, helpless in his sickbed (we'll get to that). Sam's face appeared in the panes of the window at the door closest to the computer. He looked at me up on my ladder. I suppose I looked just fine up there on my ladder in the tree. I was trying pretty hard to do just that. If you don't worry, nothing bad can happen to you. Right?

"Sam, please come very quickly. The ladder is falling." He scowled. He heard me. I saw him pass the living room window, moving at a very relaxed pace as I clung to the tree, trying to hold the ladder in place and not drop the chainsaw, 2 meters up in the air. He appeared at the living room door. Why he couldn't have just come out the other door I will never understand.

"What, Mom?"

"I said that the ladder is falling, and I need you to come here as fast as you can and help me." He loped across the terrace. The other day, he was complaining to his grandmother in the US about his friends not going out and sometime later, he was back at it, "Grandma was right," he said, "the French are blasé."

"Blasé?"

"Yeah, Grandma said it, and it's true." Sam, you might say, has become very French.

"Quickly, Sam." I was getting impatient, and I could feel the ladder slipping millimeter by millimeter. Or, maybe he wanted me to fall?

You didn't think of that, did you?

Nah. Couldn't be. I have the great ideas and listen to his stories about the latest fresh pair of Nike Air Force 1's on eBay.
....

Gone a fishin', the survivors


It was an experience neither the four remaining fish from the leaking basin or I is likely soon to forget.

I went into the kitchen and got the strainer I use for draining steamed spinach and returned to locate my prey. Well, not prey, really. The fish I needed to move from the basin to a trash can. Well, not a trash can really. Not now, anyway, now that it is home to the fish that survived the Great Cold and the low water levels of January. It's a fish can now. With a concrete block to offer them pathetic shelter.

They really didn't appreciate my lunging attacks, pinning them in the depths of the silty mud at the bottom of the pond-in-a-basin, which is practically all that is left as the remaining water drains below the mudflats.

I got the first one, and it lay there in the muck in my strainer. It looked really dead. I stared at it, and then I realized that I was holding it in the air, out of the water. I was killing the fish. I plunged it back into what was left of the water, trying neither to lose it, nor to lose it. It got a second to breathe, and I high-finned him to the watering can I had filled with basin water.

Well, that went fairly well, I thought to myself, perspiring faintly, my heart-rate somewhat elevated. I prepared to get the next two, watching the proceedings from what they thought was a safe spot behind the reeds, next to the moss-covered old stone sink Audouin hauled up from the bottom of the garden years ago and placed in the old fountain, thinking it would make a nice planter for aquatic plants. I went and got my pruning shears to cut out some of the reeds. I was going to win this one. Me 4, fish 0.

I got them.

There was one last fish to find in all that churned up silt. Bubbles. The give-away. Follow the bubbles. There, there very near the same spot by the reeds, was a shiny patch of glittering pink-orange gold.

A-ha.

He was playing dead.

Or, was he playing dead? Had I killed him? The shock of seeing his comrades, his fellow survivors go like that, after narrowly escaping death already, was it more than he could bear? I didn't give him time to think.

I plunged my strainer -- having lost all sense of delicacy and propriety; the others were already swimming about in the tin watering can, so how much damage could I have done to them? -- and drew it out. He lay there on his side. I whipped him around and dropped him in with the others, got my bowl and started patiently filling it, avoiding the silty muck, to make a nice level of water in the fish can. I poured them in. It took some time for the water to clear, but there they were. Safe and sound, if a little shaken.

Trust would have to be reestablished.

If the cats knew, they probably wouldn't come here.

Speaking of which, our neighbors have not come by either to thank me, nor to give me news of their cat. I left the vet's office in peace today. I was also too embarrassed to tell them that my neighbors hadn't thought it worth their trouble to say thank you. I hope it doesn't mean that they had to decide to have him put down. Such a beautiful cat.

This nearly spring-like, sunny morning, no one was visible at the bottom of the fish can. They were all hiding behind the concrete block, which Audouin thought I was a little daft to put in there.

They like it. It offers them privacy.

I went back inside and got the fish food. One stuck his head out and came to see. He sniffed at it, swallowed a bite, and turned to head back behind the concrete block. I waited. I know them.

A couple of seconds later, he swam back out, accompanied by a second fish, who swam up to eat a bite, turned and headed back behind the concrete block. I waited again. He'd be back with another. They pass the word. Once the third was drawn out by the food and the reassurance, they got the fourth to come out, too. I went to share my fish behavior observations with Audouin.

"J'ai entendu une grenouille croacer ce matin." I had taken the BMW in to have the hood repainted and the front bumber and right fog light repaired, the last from my run-in with a wild boar in Dordogne three summers ago already, and ridden my bicycle back.

"Ah bon? Tu en es sur?" He could have been mistaken in his sick-bed delirium.

"Oui," he croaked. I didn't believe him. I hadn't seen or heard a thing, but I didn't need to disappoint a sick man, who sincerely hoped that now I would remove the reeds and muck if I thought that the frogs had come out of hibernation. He liked my fish story. He thinks I am sort of cute and amusing for caring what carp do in a trash can, or anywhere else.

"Et, je pense qu'il y a deux qui portent des oeufs. Elles ont des ventres," I made a gesture to indicate roundness at the sides, "gonflés. Maybe we're going to have some babies very soon. Speaking of which, you probably didn't get my message, but the neighbor had her baby Thursday." He winced. I thought he might evince a little more interest. She is his patient.

"Boy or -- oh, we knew. Boy."

"Léandre. Like in Greek mythology."

"Audrey est enceinte aussi." Just what this jealous old crone needed to know, my last sister-in-law is expecting their second, her third. Add that to my personal trainer's wife and Peggy at the gym, too.

Just give me baby fish to repopulate the fish basin once we get it repaired, and I'll name them all.

....

Now you see them, now you... don't


No workers today. Audouin warned me last week, saying Joaquim had mentioned that they'd be gone "2 or 3 days" this week, which in Joaquim speak equals a week and a half. I had asked Georges at the end of Friday, and he had looked very surprised.

"Il ne m'a rien dit."

"Oh. Alors, vous serez ici probablement lundi."

"Oui, je pense."

Non.

Tomorrow, back up in the linden trees, if I can get the chain back on my new chainsaw, and make it stay.
....

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