Sunday, August 9, 2009

Under Wet Eucalyptus

Walking to school in a blustery San Francisco Bay Area rain storm was a surefire way to get drenched. The rain came at my face as if I were being squirted by a summertime hose, but this water was sharp and ice cold. My feet felt slimy in my white uniform oxfords. But I thought of a day like that as a chance to swim in air, and I liked it.

A dense aroma predominated as I neared the groves of Eucalyptus globulus that surrounded our school. The towering trees had been planted as a wind break early in the 20th century and by my time they nearly reached the sky. Long strips of shredded bark flapped in the wind and whistled in a mysterious way before flying off in large chunks and thudding to the ground below. Long, narrow leaves were pungent underfoot. Little grey-green caps were generally abundant and made my fingers sticky if I rolled them around in my hands. The caps were from seed pods and each was unique--some were very pointed, some much flatter, some with a heavy grey blush and some more green, as if the blush were rubbed away. I knew they were helmets of some kind for the wee folk who lived in the area. It was worth the mess on my hands because they smelled so good.

By the time I got settled into my desk and the school day began, I had already packed enough into my morning to nurture any daydreams I might need for getting through any lessons I already understood. Just where are those little people on a day like this? I imagined the coziest of all possible dens, tiny fires blazing on river rock hearths, porridge steaming in an iron pot. What is porridge? No idea. Elf food. I could see the little bentwood rocking chairs, the colorful crocheted afghans, the rag rugs. Beds with patchwork quilts. Small green shoes with pointed toes lined up by size to dry by the fire. Curtains drawn. A curl of smoke from the chimney obliterated by the raging storm outside. They were safe. No one--not a person, not a crow--would find their cottage today.

I rested my chin on my hand for a furtive sniff of the resin, but my fingers now smelled more like the cedar of my pencil, which was okay. It was probably time to pay attention anyway.

I loved the eucalyptus. It was the gateway to magic.

I'll get some more of those little caps after school.

Photography: Eucalyptus globulus, www.anbg.gov.au

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