My favorite flowering tree in town is native to Argentina. Its English name is the silk floss tree. I know where two of them are Uptown. I’ve been riding by them both since mid-August, hoping for blooms. The one on Pitt Street behind the Prytania Theater bloomed on the first day of October. Its trunk covered with thorns, coated in construction dust, suddenly it burst open with complicated, creamy-pinky blossoms: how is such a thing possible?
I’ve ridden my bike by that tree every day since — on my way to work, to the gym, to nowhere in particular. Its improbable flowers. I might never get to see them again. Not after this year.
On the fourteenth day of the month I go to the airport and fly out of town. What a thing, to be able to get on a plane again without much fear, after more than a year of chemo and seeing my white blood cell count tumble downward. It is a leap, a flight of faith, me getting on the plane: I don’t want to end up in an emergency room; I don’t want to suffer anywhere other than home.
Several people tell me when I tell them that I am flying north for fall break that they hope I will enjoy the leaves. The leaves. Yes, I always enjoy leaves.
The plane takes off early in the morning. I’m in a window seat, and when I see the shadow of my very own plane on the ground I start to cry. Unexpected. I have counted myself so, so lucky these past 15 months to be able to ride my bike, walk my block, stand in my garden long enough to see a plane overhead casting a shadow. Lucky people, on their way to somewhere good. And here I am now, causing the shadow. I am well enough to leave again. But I never want to leave. There I go.
I close my eyes and try to be reasonable. Even, even ground is what I’ve been trying to tread this past year: not too steep, not too sad, not too good, not too anything. Cope with cancer, day to day; step to step to step is enough.
I open my eyes and look out the window again. A lot of wing. I look behind: and there is my city. The city I chose. There is the river. There is the early sun raking across the water, turning it to gold. There is my bike path, the curve and curve and curve of it. Gorgeous amber shoulders of river and levee in this dawn light. I can see 25 miles of my bike path now. The enormity of it; the smallness of it; it is everything to me and it is not a postage stamp of the world. All the dragonflies down there! The mosquitoes! All the monarch butterflies we planted milkweed for and who’ve come back this year. All the leaves covered in dew. All the cats licking the dew off those leaves. My top-most tabasco peppers seeing the sun for the last time before the cardinals get them. The second harvests of figs no bigger than a thumb. The silk floss pinks and creams and lurid stamens; they are rooted there beyond reason, not native, thriving and spiky and beautiful. I get a last look at it all before the plane banks. And I gasp at how much just left my field of vision. What an awful lot to have to leave behind.