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Remembering summers past . . .

Lawn-mowers and leaf-blowers strike up their tune much earlier when summer arrives 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 the 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 our little family drove to a the Moon 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, that she wanted such a tree for our yard. I had the perfect spot, right in front of her bedroom window, where there should be something magnificent to wake up to every morning. And, from a more practical perspective, it would fill the space previously occupied for over seven decades by a grapefruit tree that had finally given up the ghost.

Sophie was still 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 in the oleanders that bordered our back yard, or a hummingbird drinking from a Mexican honeysuckle, or the pink tree that was proving to be more elusive than I had anticipated. The nursery was all out of mature orchid trees, and the saplings were wholly unimpressive. It was anti-climactic at best when at last we 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. The young man who sold it to me was very charming and assured me it would provide “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. We began tending it, and like the watched kettle, it was unresponsive to our vigilance. Then, almost magically, not unlike Sophie herself, it grew up – beautiful, independent, fragile, and alert, with a resilience that sometimes takes my breath away.

Bending and swaying just when it should, at all the right times over the past decade, her pink tree has survived scorching, record-breaking temperatures, frost, intense monsoons, and even a “haboob” that hit Phoenix when we had abandoned the heat for California’s central coast. Unfazed, it was waiting for us when we returned as if to remind us that we live and move in its shadow.

It has annually inspired a shock of petunias in the flower beds, geraniums, fragrant pink stock, freesias, and snapdragons. It even played a role in the color I chose for my front door – I had entirely too much fun mixing colors, one of which was “black raspberry” to create a complement to Sophie’s pink tree.

And as I remembered this week while reading through old scrapbooks, her Hong Kong orchid was also the inspiration behind my darling girl’s first foray into poetry for which she earned a blue ribbon and honorable mention in her grade school’s annual poetry contest.
Through all the beginnings and endings, the reminders of the fragility and fleetingness of life, and the finality of death, the pink tree abides.