I’m known as a tree whisperer to a few friends in the city – mostly due to my rural upbringing. When we went for (mandatory) family walks, my dad quizzed me on the trees we passed. Elm, oak, maple – red and sugar – locust, hawthorn… You can tell what’s what by the leaves, the branch structure, the bark and occasionally the roots. Sometimes you just have to have a sense of it. The easiest were the hawthorns – they’re covered in long, sharp spikes. I used to impale their own red berries on them. (Something to analyze there…) Second easiest is maple, which I subsequently tattooed on my body in honor of growing up in Appalachia and always remembering where I come from. Although I couldn’t tell you if the leaf on my arm is red maple or sugar. Fuck.
Anyway, yesterday a friend – the kind who has a list of her top ten favorite trees in the city – sent me a picture and asked me to help identify one. I’m proud to say I came up big. Or, well, medium big. It had pink, crepe-paper leaves and a tiny button in the middle. I knew it was a cherry (tis the season) and I even knew the type. Except I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Here, in full exactitude, is what happened:
Hey tree whisperer. Need your help
[sends picture] What is this?
What! It’s my third favorite tree in the city. Right outside my building. What kind is it?
I can’t remember… bonsai or river kwai or kwanzaa or kudzu….
I stared at that response for awhile before sending it. I like when I’m weird. It makes me laugh to think that I’ve just strung those words together. I like to imagine scrolling through our long list of texts in a year and running across that. But it irked me not to get it right. (There’s a quirk/irk joke here I can’t put my finger on…) I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to come up with it without googling.
I went to bed having failed. This morning I gave in and googled. Turns out the answer is “Kwanzan.” Medium big.