Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Acacia

Desert plants are not like other plants. They have an armory that would rival any warring state but their blossoms are delicate and unbelievably precious. When you see those stark pictures of Africa with a silhouette of a tree, it’s probably an acacia. They will thrive with neglect or even with abuse. Even if the tree dies, somewhere there is a seedling, a seed pod unopened waiting for just enough rain. The promise of new life. The acacia has soft thistledown yellow flowers that appear before the leaves. The scent is subtle but heady. In the early dawn or at sunset, the smell is similar to the sweetest iris. The scent envelopes you as you walk beneath the spreading branches but it alludes if you stick your nose next to the flower. With the flowers come vicious thorns. The young branches send out thorns over an inch long, sharp as needles, nestled among the soft puffball flowers.

With the cultivation of life and healthy plants, there must be some destruction too. It is part of the great life cycle. This weekend we are trying to help the acacia by our house. For too many years, it has been allowed to split into multiple trunks which are weakening the tree. When the seed pods came last fall, they were so heavy the tree almost broke. It is the nature of the acacia to have multiple trunks but this tired tree has been damaged by utility trucks, unkindly pruned and yet, every spring, it sends out its yellow cloud of fragrant flowers. We cut back the trunks that are too heavy to salvage. We prune back the branches. I cannot bear to waste any of it so we gather all the cuttings and snip them by hand into manageable bits that I can use for mulch. The spiny twigs will serve to protect the tender plants in the backyard with fewer defenses. The branches we cut into firewood lengths. As we remove the heaviest limb, the tree groans and stands a little more upright. The yellow flowers shower their scent around us, the dust of their soft blossoms sprinkled in our hair.

The acacia reminds me of a fortune teller reading my palm and telling me of multiple paths that I have followed. So many times we are afraid to be hurt so we have our thorns ready to defend even before the damage is done. There is balance in the acacia. Good and bad. Dark and light. It is the ultimate survivor. Even when the tree is old and scarred, there is always the burst of yellow in the spring. A promise. A hope for the future.

March 24, 2009