Well, well, now lookee here… If it ain’t Canada Day… And an immaculate day it is in the old home town. The faint breeze can’t compete with the Phoebean heat of July. I always wanted to live in a lighthouse and my third-floor deck provides a reasonable approximation. The birdsong almost drowns out the sounds of the students four houses down the street. They too are enjoying the day by cranking up some particularly insistent Latin salsa on their sound system. They were playing touch football in the street last night at 4:30 a.m., too drunk to throw or catch with any accuracy, screaming with glee. A lesson in tolerance for the rest of us.
And I have not been blameless vis-à-vis nightly noises of late. Last week, at dusk, my wife and I were startled from our game of Scrabble by an extraordinary sound – a sort of groaning creak that reverberated through the house. Assuming it was the long-anticipated Zombie Armageddon I ran upstairs to get my sword, but there were no grizzly, rotting faces at the window, no pustulating gangrenous hands clawing through the letterbox. Out at the end of our garden, an aged linden tree, taller than our house, had split in two and half of it had fallen to block the laneway, a wall of foliage twenty feet high. Neighbours gathered. Clinging to the now-horizontal trunk, high above our heads, were four very small racoons with their mother, no doubt even more confused than we were. Presumably their combined weight had broken the tree since there wasn’t a breath of wind that evening.
We called the City who told us the tree was on private property so none of their business. We called the insurance company who explained they were in no way liable. We called Bell and Rogers since it was only their cable that was preventing the great weight of wood from crashing to the ground: they told us to call the City. We called Hydro because the fall had severed the power line between the street lamps in the laneway and the sparking, twitching cable was now, I suppose, dangerous. They came and took down the line but would not touch the tree. By now the police and the fire brigade had also appeared. Our laneway is a culdesac and the people who live farther along it would not be able to get to work next morning unless something was done. They suggested we look in the yellow pages for a private arborist company – so we did – only to be told that the fallen half of the tree was on City property so they couldn’t touch it. We stood around for a while.
Then we called the City again and this time a different woman answered and eventually agreed to send an emergency team. By the time they arrived it was one o’clock in the morning. The neighbours and the racoons had disappeared. There was no sound but the rustle of the night breeze in the linden leaves.
At two o’clock, the chain saws powered up and went about their work until dawn, egged on by the jet-engine din of the shredder that pulverised the brush and foliage. The heroes removed the final obstruction from the laneway – their last cut precisely on my property line – leaving a massive limb hanging over my next-door neighbour’s car port like a zombie’s severed thigh – then went off to see if Timmy’s was open yet, thirsty for a well-earned double-double.
Slowly the sun rose. And with it a miracle occurred. In my garden of perpetual shade, my valley of the hostas, my dank, benighted forest floor of a backyard, lowered over by Norway maples and lindens and a malevolent ornamental pear tree, fell a golden beam of sunshine. With each minute it grew, probing the beds and pathways like a searchlight. My wan and stunted shade plants stirred uncertainly, disbelieving. Then the full sun climbed at last above my neighbour’s roof and the garden was flooded with light. Tentatively at first but with ever-growing vigour, the hostas and the trillium, the ferns and ivies, the foetid moss and the nodding monk’s hood began to sing… “O welche Lust… O welche Lust… In freier Luft den Atem leicht zu heben!”
And so it has continued. A new lease of life for my sad prisoners’ chorus of perennial gloom. Right now, if I look down from my high deck, and they don’t notice me, I can see them jiving and jitterbugging and whooping it up to the music from the students-four-doors-down. They no longer whisper in German, my plants. They’re sun-tanned Latinos now. Hosta la vista, baby!