Jul 3, 2006

All fall down


Every few years they fall again. Every four years or so they call the bulldozers into the trees and every one by one is pushed over.

In the first May the trees get planted into holes and the burlap is cut away from their roots letting loose the wormy ends and muddy earth bits. In the second May they have fruit and they have fruit for another year or two and then the fruit's still there but they push them all over.

There are rows and rows of trees in the valley. The sun picks out each leaf and divides it into halves of light and dark. After the sun rises over the mountains and lights the faces of all the rocks it comes down to the trees and the shadows leave in rows and rows and as they day grows it changes into a middle shade. Between the trees the rows rise in furrows of undug dirt packed down slick and hard and the rotting oranges lay putrid on the ground going flat and swarm with flies. The bee boxes go up in the rows along the outside, separating one square orchard from another with the stacked-up hives painted up in gaudy discount colors.

The valley boys drive down the roads between the trees in pickups and the girls pause at stop signs to push back the tops of convertibles. Tourists stop to pick a bunch off the edge of the tree over the irrigation ditch of wet weeds, not knowing that the thin skins and small pores mean these May oranges aren't for eating. They're juicers, never coming apart in your hands in pre-prepared triangles and if you're going to eat them you have to let the juice slobber all over your chin. The Mexican pickers come by in pickups and vans and low riders, wearing cowboy hats and boots and long once-white bags slung over their shoulders. They carry ladders down the rows and tell jokes in Spanish and eat their lunches at the edge of the trees in whichever direction the shade is falling.

Then in the fourth May or sometimes the fifth May if the owner wants to try and wait out age, the bulldozers come. They come by ones, like a flock they come but you never see more than one hidden back between the trees, the yellow a flash disguised by the trees. The bulldozers start on some side of the field - it doesn't matter where they start so they start wherever they are - they start with a tree on the edge. The blade nicks the bark and the tree bleeds in sappy white and then the roots come up tight against the ground, creaking, grunting. You can't hear anything but the diesel flapping out of the engine pipe, flapping faster then slower then faster and the tank treads turn into the dirt and the blade pushes into the gnarl of the trunk and peels back the bark to the naked white wood.

The trees fall slowly. They fall one at a time and each one falls slowly, lifting up the weght of the root ball tangled with dirt and dead wood from earlier generations of ripped up trees. They fall with a tearing sound and the shushing sound of leaves and fruit and reaching limbs all falling down to die.

The boys and the girls and tourists and the Mexicans all drive by the next day and the grove is a grove of trees on their sides, scattered in haphazard shapes where they lay for a day in the mud and broken pieces and fruit rolling away. The bulldozer knocks them all down and then circles around the outside, stepping it off on caterpillar feet, and comes in on concentric circles pushing the trees into piles arranged in a spiral. The last thing, in the end of the fourth or the fifth May, someone takes a can of diesel and walks between the ugly holes and lights a fire for each pile. The smoke starts white and each pile burns up into the air and they drift together into one drifting pillar of smoke slowly moving into the corners of the valleys, looking like fog and smelling like fire and orange juice.