They were here at 8:30 sharp, as agreed. They didn’t want coffee or water. They stared at the huge, looming trees overhead and looked a bit tired, maybe it was dread.
They carefully started putting on climber’s equipment, belts and chains and put gas in the heavy hand held machine. Then one of them carried it all the way up the towering tree
They all shook my hand. The youngest one had sweaty palms. I imagined he was afraid and so was I. I wondered if he might have been new at cutting such tall trees. I lost sleep the night before from nightmares.
I stared at them working so hard all day. I’m rarely that awestruck. I could hardly breathe. I gawked at their bodies swaying in the looming trees with perspiration pouring down them in the heat.
One man straddled the wide palm tree, lunging his belt into it with each step to steady himself, going high up the gigantic palm, full of big, prickly, dead leaves. I gasped and groaned with exhaustion as his partner walked by me. He uttered some English, “This is hard. I will have to retire in two years.”
I knew the trees didn’t like being hurt that way. But, I couldn’t help it. I have tenants, cars, people and myself here. I had to protect us from falling trees with disease and climate change making winters more gusty and rainy each year.
I prepared a quick egg and some fruit the night before. Sure enough, mid-afternoon as the hot sun glared down on us, penetrating my skin, I ran inside to barely gulp down a glass of water and eat a hardboiled egg. I wasn’t hungry, but I knew I needed fuel. It was a gripping and intensely alive day.
I offered them food, but they refused.
At one point, late in the steaming hot day, one man worked hard grabbing huge logs in his bare hands, while the other was climbing trees, with electric saw in hand, and the other pushing heavy wood logs into the chipping machine, sweating through his clothes. He looked, in spite of his youth, tired. I made a hand movement, “Where are your gloves?” He nodded “no.” I pointed at the sharp stickers.
Would the wood ever stop dropping from the trees? Would the pieces of bark and logs from last year’s heavy rainfall ever stop falling to the ground so he could quit bending and lifting them, heaving them into the chipper?
I couldn’t take it anymore so I shrugged, shoulders moving in strong statements as our languages weren’t the same, dragging my hand across my throat, trying to say, “quit, you have done enough.” I finally couldn’t stand to see them, hour after hour, working so hard.
One guy greeted me out front towards the end of that long day. He whispered, “Come to the back yard and see something.”
And so I went. I had not negotiated the pruning of some trees because of my budget, but there, in front of me was this delicate, carefully pruned large tree, looking like an art piece. They had trimmed an extra tree to make it more beautiful than I had seen it in my 23 years here. It was a gift.
I burst into tears, looking at its loveliness. I rarely cry anymore. Maybe it’s from growing up with a tough Irish mom. But, I broke down at the end of the day. We kept eye contact while his eyes filled up, too. And the tree other climber waved from the tree.
I don’t know why it’s been so hard to write this. I guess I grieved the lost limbs coming off the trees in a world that is so unfriendly to nature now. And it was my first time up so close to another culture, not white like mine and so ambitious, responsible and sincere. I felt protective and protected.
These are our immigrants.