That’s what the man says. He says, It’s toast. You can get another opinion if you want, but I can tell you for sure, like ninety-nine-point-nine percent sure, it’s toast.
This tree, a Hong Kong orchid tree (or more properly, Bauhinia × blakeana) is the showpiece of our small yard here in Florida. A willowy head of lime-green tendrils that explode each “winter” in fuchsia flowers as big as my hand. Planted by the previous owner, but tended fiercely by me for three years. So unlike anything in our yard in Oakland, all summer dry flax, firepoker, rosemary, sage.
Another tree man says, You never want to say never, but…
Of course I see what they see. The wound on the trunk. How the smooth gray bark has peeled away. How some of the tree’s insides are now outside. How ants teem. I also see the lip of bark callousing the wound’s circumference to shrink the exposure as weeks go by.
A third “expert” chimes in. Says, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’ll have to remove it. He suggests a few trees he says are better suited for the small space: a dwarf powder puff, a desert cassia, a golden dewdrop. All lovely, I’m sure, but we love this tree.
He adds as an afterthought, I’m guessing you won’t miss it though, they’re so terribly messy. He is right. It is terribly messy. But he’s wrong to think we won’t miss it because he doesn’t know about the tiny birds. How they came for those fuchsia flowers that first December, day after day, buzzing, hovering, lingering to drink more, sparkling green and black, tiny ruby flashes. How they reminded us of home, of the ones that buzzed the Mexican sage and nested in the crook of the plum tree outside our kitchen window.
Two years now since the experts’ pronouncements. The tree leans heavily, half its crown missing. I’ve splinted the lowermost trunk, propped the weight of the lean with a two-by-four wedged atop the patio. A brick-colored fungus stacks small shelves on one upper branch. But the tree still sprouts tender green leaves from stems reaching for the sun. I tell myself, it wants to live!
It’s August now, the crepe myrtles blooming, big and pink and crepe-papery. These blossoms will be smooth green berries by September and the cardinal pair will come to nibble them. Then two more months, maybe three, depending on the rains, and the orchid tree will put on its show again. We have been here long enough now to know the routine. We fell in love with the tree that first December and again each year after and now? Now I feel responsible for it. I feel responsible for the little birds.
We see the tree is, in fact, dying. Of course the experts were right. But as we watch it each day and August moves toward September, we say to each other, Just one more year.
Deborah Sherman is a writer, photographer, bird nerd, and cat servant from Oakland, California. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College where she served as Editor of the graduate English Department’s literary journal, 580 Split. Her essay “Tale of the Bufo” appears in Hippocampus Magazine’s March/April 2022 issue, and her micro love story “The Fling” was included in the 2018 anthology Short on Sugar, High on Honey published by Flash: The International Short Short Story Press. She currently lives in Delray Beach, Florida, with her husband and two cats, and is working on a collection of essays about place, impermanence, and possibilities. You can find more of her work at deborahsherman.com.