Y4 – Day 186 – Our California Pepper Tree

From the vantage point of our soon to be sixty-year-old California pepper tree, almost at the farthest point in our backyard, I sit under its shade and what I see, feel and hear captures my heart.

I feel the breeze whisk by. It makes the long, thin, weeping branches holding pink berry clusters sway and rustle as if they were beaded curtains swinging and swishing at the secret opening of an opium den in the exotic Far East of a James Hilton novel. The grass and weeds lean and bend at my feet and beyond, leading right up to the graphite colored edge of the slated patio.

I listen to the symphonic chattering of birds’ whistles and chirps. Feathers fly. Sibilant sounds pierce the air. Abandoned nests whisper in silence.

I hear the whir of commercial jets overhead. Without looking at the blue expanse, I can distinguish the roaring, steady stream of noise. There are the fueled planes and then there are the ones motored simply by propellers, arriving and departing via our local airport. I hear two or three mowers from neighboring lawns. A car passes by the upper street, north of us. I am at the center of it all as life passes and continues despite my presence under the foil of the California pepper tree.

Against the south fence, bordering our citrus grower, the leaves from non-descript, softwood trees shake, drop and fall. The California pepper flutters its fringed leaves. Here and there, it lets a single pink berry or thin, bladed leaf go. As it is released from the tree, the verdant leaves twirl as they spiral to the earth’s surface on their journey. The berries, on the other hand, even though they are as light as tears, drop straight down onto the dirt.

The Queen palms by the pool reach up to the heavens. They are languishing with fatigue by the lounge chairs. The young fronds circle in a pinwheel pattern around the flexible, giant stalk. . Heavy with sword shaped leaves, their weight creates a bend downward. It’s a fireworks display exploding in green.

The Hawaiian plumeria we planted as a stick is now a seven wide by seven-foot high island tree. Its dense, shiny, sea green foliage hides the fact there is a kitchen window behind it. The clusters of bursting flower petals are painted in magenta and bright, sunshine yellow. Their inner throats are streaked in a pale white when you look up close. From the distance and cover of my California pepper tree, they look like ruby gemstones, imported from Siam, now, Thailand, which are darker and deeper than India’s precious stones.

A hummingbird flits from east to west, searching. It sticks its long pointy beak into orange trumpet shaped blossoms on a shrub we never planted and don’t have the heart to dispose of. It stoically resurrected itself just a few months after our landscaping was complete, sixteen years ago.

Purple hearts cascade over the raised stucco planter on the left of the back of the house. The half circle is under a window and attached to the outside of our den wall. Teeny, lilac blooms announce their arrival by peeking out from deep inside elongated and furry leaves. The purple secretia grow like creeping ivy but they are eggplant colored. The lighter tone of the flowers brightens the aubergine hue like glitter sprinkled on a maroon background. Profuse and seemingly limitless, it’s random and wild.

The twin planter to the right has a myriad of color. The four o’clocks I planted from seed range from hot pink to fuchsia to bright purple to sunny yellow, milk white, poppy red and coral. Hidden under their eighteen inch heights are petunias that peek out in violet and lily-white. A ten-inch glass sphere sits atop its black iron stand in the center of the half moon. The shiny aqua globe turns purple, cobalt blue and Japanese beetle green, according to how the prism of light hits it. It anchors and celebrates the rainbow jubilee of the flora it reigns over.

One side so monochrome, the other side, varied and brilliant. Both have a haphazard, unrestrained and spontaneous texture. Like different parts of you vividly portrayed in two living beds of possibilities and outcomes. Both are bold, strong and refuse to be defined by any rules.

There’s a row of Iceberg roses all along the front side of the guesthouse showing signs of brown wilt on the tips of their petals. This indicates the snow-white flowers need to be snipped away from the clutches of their thorny branches. I love using my super sharp, Cutco pruners. When I was fifteen and staying with a friend on her acre of gardens in East Hampton, I learned to cut off the flowered stem at the start of a five-leafed nodule. This allows fresh growth to take hold and to move in a different direction. I remember we sunbathed nude in private inside her glowing courtyard. That summer away, I was nurtured and looked at life with novel eyes too.

Maybe later I will lop off roses, but, for now, I take this time, to bask and appreciate the natural beauty everywhere, beneath the soft, netting of my California pepper tree.

The view is alive and well. I write with abandon and glory about what’s right here before me, for as Dorothy says, There is no place like home.



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