Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Genius in My Back Yard

There is a genius in my back yard. She is 30 feet tall and possibly the smartest creature I have ever known. She loves the winter and the cold, saving her finest attire for the months when my feet freeze and my hands turn blue. Over the 35 years that I have known her, she has sheltered hundreds of finches and mockingbirds and cardinals. Her bark is smooth and her leaves are as sharp as tiny knives, but I sense that she doesn't have a single ounce of meanness in her.

She is a holly tree, and she is the most remarkable and clever creature. Without moving an inch from her roots, she is fertilized year in and year out by the stout and lumbering male holly bush that lives around the far corner of my neighbor's house. Squirells, chipmunks and birds of every color visit her welcome, safe, dense branches after larking in my neighbor's yard. Her thick branches are a safe haven for the bustling life that brushes up against her with their fur and feathers. The air often blows from the east, catching the pollen that will stimulate the berries that appear in the hundreds by November. By December, she is a glory of brillant red dots against emerald green that radiates against the drab and grey landscape.

So, without budging an inch from her solid and safe spot in the right rear section of my back yard, she is now heavy with fruit and potential new life. What good is that, you may wonder, when she is imprisoned by the deep roots that hold her captive? How can this handsome, tall tree cast its offspring out into the world when each berry clings tightly to its mother's arms?

She flies. Wood and leaf, bark and berry transform into a frenzy of wings and beaks. Every year, for the last 35 years, this brillant holly tree becomes a blur of hunger-crazed, male robins. By the hundreds, they descend from all directions in mid February and gorge themselves with her sweet fruit. They then fly, most often to the front of my house and my elephant-barked maple tree. There, they poop red rain upon all things below. My two cars, unless I move them very quickly, loose their green and silver colors, and become a blotch of red, looking as if a crazed paint baller was trying to write hieroglyphics. For the last three weeks, both of my cars have been parked around the corner, safely away from any tree branches. Three times, I thought I was safe and brought them back to my driveway. Three times, I've had to scrub large blotches of red from their roofs and windshields.

And, all of this time, while the robins drop their red rain and I scrub off my car, the rain and snow and wind have been delivering my holly tree's seeds to lawns and front yards and woodlands that the tree can't even see. Without budging an inch, she has figured out how to make more of herself. This arborial female has conquered the air by selflessly offering gifts to those in need. Her mobility stretches out in all directions, even though she never moves. The paradox of her plan is startling in its simplicity.

I have marveled year after year at this genius in my back yard. When my own worries and fears and needs seem to overwhelm me, I think of her and her calm and elegant approach to life. "Listen to the trees in their sleep," she whispered, as he lifted her to the ground. "What nice dreams they must have." (Anne of Green Gables)

Copyright (2012) by James Hugh Comey


  1. Dr. Comey,

    You may not remember me, but you taught me in 8th grade English and Young Playwrights in 1993/1994. I was shy and nervous, socially awkward, but you always asked me to read my compositions to the class; I had confidence in my writing because of your support. I'm about to become the Managing Editor of a Canadian small trade press and I wanted you to know that your teaching has indeed touched the future. Thank you, sir.

  2. Many thanks for your kind and generous words. And congratulations on your Managing Editor position. It's a shame that it's not an American small trade press. I'm looking for a small press for my enovel, Uncommon Glory. It's a very American, coming of age story, set in Drexel Hill, PA and Atlantic City, NJ, between 1957 and 1960.

    I remember fondly the Young Playwrights classes. You all worked very hard and your scripts were remarkable.

    Thank you again for taking the time to think of me. :)