Friday, April 15, 2011

The Morning Commute, Part I

This is a sculpture called "The Flame," perpetrated by Ray King. Patrick and I call it The Wretched Spike. It looks like iridescent cellophane wrapped around a bent coat hanger.
I don't get the "flame" part of it. The outline is similar to a thin candle flame, but inorganic, and the materials are icy, sharp and geometric. It could be the White Witch's wand. It's an aggressive and lifeless mechanism.

That's the start of my commute to work. I walk past the Wretched Spike, then a few blocks to the Metro. The office buildings along my route are glass and concrete, with a few square feet of greenery in front. Since Arlington is a densely developed city, there's not a lot of flora here. The trees are usually ornamental, delicate by nature and stunted by nurture, standing isolated in grates at regular intervals along the sidewalks. Many of the trees have been trying to bloom this month, but a long cold winter followed by a cold and rainy spring have shortened the blooming period. The cherry blossom festival, always a big deal in DC, is centered around the blooming of the cherry trees that line the tidal basin; this year, the trees were at peak bloom for less than a week due to the weather. The city trees along my route are frail and don't last long, but they keep getting replanted. I think of them as the vegetative form of the tiny, shivering apartment dogs that people in my neighborhood keep.

Back in Rhea County, there's not much old growth forest, but the trees are large and hardy. They grow together in a jumble up the ridges and hills, a mix of oaks and maples and yellow pines, with smaller plants like dogwood trees filling in the gaps. The pines grow tall and spindly and sway back and forth in the breeze. One standout is the tulip poplar, which grows tall and broad and dwarfs the surrounding broadleafs. It has large fleshy green and orange petals surrounding a central dense and heavy spike, not unlike the "Flame" sculpture in shape, and after the petals fall, these spikes drop on unsuspecting locals.
That's one of the ways that things are upside-down in Arlington. I'm not supposed to be stronger and longer-lived than the trees around me. Out in front of our wonderful local library, there are tiny ornamental Japanese red maple trees, limbs dipping and bending near the ground in wonderful arabesques. They are a lovely decoration. But trees should also be structural. I miss living in a world that's framed with tree trunks, not I-beams.

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