Thursday, July 23, 2015

Five Mimosas and a Mango 

My favorite tree is the mimosa.  It is one of those Asian transplants that has made its home in the southern U.S. and is considered invasive by purists.  Its wispy, cotton candy pink and white flowers, graceful branches and lovely aroma endear it to children but not so much to adults, because turf grass does not do well under it’s canopy. There is shade, for one thing, and the root system spreads out just beneath the soil. It’s leaves resemble those of the tiny sensitive plants that grow farther north, and you can easily see that no rake has ever been invented that could handle the dried stems and leaflets that fall off it’s branches every autumn.

Like the redbud and the dogwood, it is a relatively small tree. Unlike other trees, it will grace your yard, folding it’s leaves each night as the sun sets, for only about thirty years before it joins it’s eastern ancestors in that great big yard somewhere or other up there beyond our sky.

Perhaps there was some trauma in my past - of seeing these beloved beauties being eliminated forever from our yard; perhaps it's just that those of us who grew up in a single environment are somehow rooted to our native soil and miss it’s unique produce - whatever the reason, every time I go home to Alabama, I stop along the side of the road to collect mimosa seeds if the season is right, and if it is not, to look for a likely seedling for the pot that just happens to be stashed away in my car so that I can carry a little bit of the home I still love with me back into the cold northern reaches of Iowa.

When my best friend surprised us all by dying a few years ago (she had much too much life and energy to die, you understand) I was there. In one of her letters, her mother called me her friend from the cradle, because that’s where my two year old self first saw her, as her mother and my mother - best friends back then - delighted in her tiny self. So I guess now I’m her friend from her cradle to her grave, because all of us - her husband, her friends, her kin - gathered there in Elmwood as her body was interred alongside her parents and her Aunt Sally.

Afterwards I went home to my potted mimosas and found them both dead as well.

This summer I decided I was ready for another mimosa, and asked my cousin Kenneth, with whom I was staying while feeding Cahaba River ticks and gathering pictures, if I could have the contents of a bag of red dirt sitting on a ledge in his yard and dig up one of the random mimosa seedlings left by the now deceased beauty that once blossomed just under the picture window on his second floor. He generously assented.  So I took two old pots lying kronk-sided among the tangled ivy in his side yard, divided the red dirt between them and transferred a tiny seedling growing nearby into one of them, being careful to make sure it was well watered.

Somewhere, maybe in eastern Georgia, when I needed to slam on the brake as traffic came to a halt on the highway, I heard an ominous thunk, as both pots of authentic red Alabama dirt tipped over in the back seat.  When I was able to right them, my little mimosa was nowhere to be seen.  The next day I found it buried in it’s pot, replanted it and made sure it had plenty of water, securing it this time firmly among the various bags in the back seat. (You know - the still clean clothes, the to-be-washed clothes, and the bag with everything you need for the next night in a motel). I took it out of the car to protect it from the searing heat when I parked, setting it under one bush at the Inn at Folkston, under another while paddling the Okefenokee sill on the other side of the swamp. I wished. I hoped. But slowly this fragile little seedling withered away and by that time there were no more mimosas to be found along the sides of the highway heading toward Chicago.  I comforted myself knowing that the mango potted in my Iowa backyard compost was being watched and watered and turned every day and was waiting for me on my front porch. And that that beautiful red soil would still be able to nourish seedlings another year.

Then familiar-looking cotyledons began pushing the soil aside in both pots. Day by day as they emerged, it looked very much as if feathery little leaves were preparing to come out. And they did.  Two seedlings rose from the red soil of one of those old grey plastic pots and one from the other. Both mimosas...

At home I found a third pot with brown Alabama soil from another year and went through the delicate task of wetting it thoroughly, (mixing the mud well) centering the seedlings in the red pots and transferring the extra seedling to the center point of the brown mud, placing them carefully, watering them thoroughly.  By that time two more seedlings were evident, this time in the compost from my Iowa backyard beside the potted mango seedling. Iowa compost shouldn’t have mimosa seeds, you think?  Well, it is my compost, and you do realize that I have been collecting mimosa seeds just about every year for decades so it's not exactly a miracle...

Still, I feel like singing that children’s song - you may remember it -
“God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He’s so good to me…”


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