Lawn-mowers and leaf-blowers strike up their tune much earlier in the mornings now that summer has arrived in the desert southwest. By the time I left for work on Monday, I noticed, with the same kind of resignation triple-digit temperatures bring every year, that our flower beds were empty, the freshly mown grass less green, and, where just weeks before long branches hung low and heavy with hot pink blooms, were almost-bare limbs exposed to the sky above our house.
I remember the uncharacteristically hot Spring day when we drove to a Paradise Valley nursery in search of a tree just like those which provided some shade during our weekend strolls through the Biltmore Fashion Park. At the time, this open-air mall boasted a row of what I finally learned were Hong Kong Orchids; my then three-year old loved to stand on the tips of her toes and stretch each of her piano-player fingers high into the sky, hoping to pluck one of the enticing pink blossoms that hung there, blooms I believe as worthy as lilies of Georgia O’Keefe’s attention.
So enchanted was Sophie by these, that she wanted a pink tree for our yard. Naturally, I had the perfect spot. Right in front of her bedroom window, she should have something magnificent to look out to every morning. Too, it would fill, at last, the space previously occupied for over seven decades by a grapefruit tree that had finally given up the ghost.
Sophie was at that tender age when she needed to and wanted to hold my hand everywhere we went, on a mission to find a stray cat, a hummingbird drinking from Mexican honeysuckle, or the pink tree, the one that was proving to be more elusive than we’d anticipated. The nursery was all out of mature orchid trees, and the saplings were wholly unimpressive. It was anti-climactic at best when we finally found, attached to a single green stalk, all of three feet tall and the width of my little finger, a price tag identifying it as the coveted Hong Kong orchid. Nary a bloom just a couple of leaves drooping sadly from the top of the stalk. The young man who sold it to me was very charming and assured me it would be providing “all kinds of shade” for us in no time. Skeptical, we bought it anyway, and off we went.
More to appease a tired little girl and her mother, than to show off any horticultural prowess, my husband planted and staked this skinny little excuse for a tree in the vacant spot. Then we began tending it. Like the watched kettle, it was naturally unresponsive to our vigilance. Then, almost magically, not unlike Sophie herself, it grew up all too quickly. Beautiful, independent, fragile and alert, with a strength that sometimes takes my breath away.
Bending and swaying just when it should, at all the right times over the past decade, our pink tree has survived scorching, record-breaking temperatures, frost, intense monsoons, and even a “haboob” last July in spite of our abandoning it for the cool Central coast of California. Unfazed, it was waiting for us when we returned as if to remind us that we live and move in its shadow.
This, my favorite tree annually inspires the shock of petunias in the flower beds, the geraniums, fragrant pink stock, freesias, and snapdragons. Too, it played a role in the color of paint I chose for our front door – I had entirely too much fun mixing colors, one of which was “black raspberry” to create something that would work with our pink tree. And as I remembered this week while reading through old scrapbooks, this tree was the inspiration behind our daughter’s first foray into poetry for which she earned a blue ribbon and honorable mention in her grade school’s annual poetry contest.