August 30, 2029
In those days, I was finishing up a degree in the Spanish language in Guadalajara, Mexico, riding the wave of what was left of my mid-life postponement, wedged between two countries, two languages, girlfriends, professions, et al. I remember I turned 36 there, straddling the fence between youth and middle-age, having just moved from Madrid where I had lived for almost six years, and the six weeks in Mexico was an understated adjustment, preceded by the initial shock that Mexico was not even second but third world.
Thanks to a particularly media-hyped influenza virus outbreak called the H1, la gripe porcina or swine flu, it was the first time I noticed a budding prevalence of hand sanitizers located at the thresholds of buildings and doorways. These containers came in various sizes and modes of bringing you a smattering of transparent gel that -as advertised on the label- purported to kill 99.9% of all bacteria. As we now know the action of trying to kill off 99.9% of all the bacteria on our hands only resulted in some vicious mutations that, in turn, killed a healthy percentage of of our own. Even when the US government declared the official “War on Bacteria”, no one really believed it would work based on the other unending, unrealistic wars they had waged and lost at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries. In fact, it’s obvious that the bacteria are winning the war because they’re so hard to see and, in comparison, we’re such big targets (which was basically the same problem we had with those pesky terrorists).
Coincidentally or not, these signs of those times occurred around the same rise in popularity as the current standard handshake alternative we now call the knuckle knock (a.k.a. fist bump). It was the obvious choice since no one bites their knuckles, picks their nose or rubs their eyes with their knuckles, allowing us to bump away at our leisure without worrying about any germ-addled palms or bacteria-infected fingernails.
That was, of course, after shaking hands became outlawed and heftily fined (except for political photo-ops), the inter-touching of citizens was largely avoided and fully a part of our national ethos. We became the paradox that we now are: self-isolated from each other, humans in need of touch, but unable to get it.
Guadalajara, the huge chunk of sprawling gaud that it was, shocked me awake every morning to the sounds outside my window: a broom sweeping long assiduous strokes starting at 6:30 am by calloused hands whose owner I never once saw; a particular bird that endlessly repeated two sounds similar to a doorbell during the day; and a train a few blocks from the house where I slept would lay on its horn as it entered the city for about 30 seconds. Every morning for six weeks I entered third world modernity with a brutal aural shock that, only near the end of my stay, became commonplace enough to be an afterthought, part of the background and, as I recall it now, something to which I yearn to return.
That, and the storms. The rainy season brought at least one storm a day that hinted Armageddon. About 30 minutes before, the wind would pick up, thunder echoed its cacophony throughout the city and finally the sky could come down in inexorable sheets of sopping anger. I sometimes found myself staring at the storms, into their chaotic spit, rooting for them.
Every morning I walked about 30 minutes to the school, which had a route of a massive L from my house to there linking two major streets. In the six weeks throughout the course of my commute, I learned to weave through the street grids in patterns that equated to many different smaller Ls, sometimes in order to find the most efficient path to the destination, sometimes with the route serving to just avoid large puddles.
Over the course of my six weeks there, I fell in love with the plentiful and varied trees that densely dotted every street, flanked buildings and shaded parks. But what most struck me about them was their open discontent they had with the city itself: All large trees grew quietly but never complacently. Many of the upper root systems were above ground, and many of those grew rampantly through the sidewalks, cracking the cement, sometimes shooting through it, sometimes even breaking the sidewalk into shards. Occasionally large slabs of concrete were upturned on their sides. These broken shards of cement and rippled slabs of concrete sometimes caused the sidewalkers to trip. After my first near fall, I walked with vigilance toward the ground, their anchorage, their veins exposed and ripping through dense human progress. Occasionally I glanced upward at them, a little fearful.
What was the government’s response? Apathy. The Department of Parks and Recreation seemed to be nonexistent. Only when a particularly harsh storm would knock down too many branches would they eventually –several days later– come around to pick them up.
But the roots, the trunks, the discontentment, was fully ignored.
The trees were constantly in their own process of becoming, an act that I never consciously witnessed yet knew was always happening right before my eyes.
Then, I wished I had been an arborist as I would’ve known what all the species were. As it was, I could barely distinguish the Ficus from the Laurel, nor did I know then what I know now: the thousands of Guadalajaran trees included many Orange, Ash, Poplars and Jacaranda trees, to name a few.
One day while I ambled my way through a series of Ls, I stumbled upon the following image, which inspired these words.
Elephantine fountains of air.
Green soldiers with gangly, tangled
surfacing, in protest of
civilization’s progress and Mexican
indifference, manifested in their belligerent machines
spewing soot and distorted ranchero brass.
Sidewalks cracking, separating
in distances too minute to be measured,
in time to slow to be counted,
by us: the ones who planted them,
who falter above their discontent,
who have no time to watch them grow,
who are outgrown by their patient, massive loom
and their inconspicuous revolution.
I stand here
You can view some of these militant trees and their root uprisings here.