I brake for nurseries

I’ve never been much for impulse — if I want to be spontaneous, I plan ahead. For instance, I’ve always been able to stand patiently at the checkout counter while the guy in front of me tries to shove 37 things through the “10 items or less” line, all the while staring at all those dumb little $4.99 items (pepper spray shrink-wrapped with a whistle, multi-colored rabbit’s feet, combination flashlight and bottle-opener, etc.) without the slightest temptation. I’ve always lived a tranquil and disciplined life and rarely shopped without a list, until last week, that is.

I purchased my first car with anti-lock brakes recently and the technology came in handy on my way home from work on Friday, when, at a reasonable 49 mph and while listening to a sensible NPR broadcast about our current economic misery, I glanced to my right as I passed a local plant nursery and without any thought at all (not a single neuron fired) or the use of my turn signal, I yanked the car harshly to the right onto the sandy shoulder and slammed on the brakes — which chattered wildly and obediently, as they are designed to, but which also scared me a little.

I jumped out of the car, walked briskly into the nursery, found a man with a logo on his shirt and dirt under his fingernails, and said “I need a weeping willow tree,” with the same urgency, intonation, and high-pitched squeal you might use to announce that you have pockets full of fire ants. Sensing my determination, focus, and obviously tight schedule, the man led me at full stride to a row of willow trees with their feet wrapped neatly in burlap, pointed to the one with the fullest crown, and said, “Pull your car in here and we’ll shove her in the back.” Less than five minutes later, with foliage willowing out of the car’s every orifice, including the driver’s window, and a yellow cash register receipt clutched between my teeth, I jerked my new car back out onto the road and, spewing sand into the underbrush, sped toward home.

I picked my wife up at work, and said, “I just bought us a tree” rather breathlessly, and when we got to the house she stood on the back porch and pointed while I walked around the backyard, lugging said tree, trying out different spots. As usual, we agreed quickly and then, while she went into the house to get out of the weather (it was raining lightly by now, of course) I ran back and forth to the garage to get tools and a bag of compost and other tree-planting stuff.

Wearing my rubber boots I soon had a muddy hole opened up (“Weeping willows like wet feet,” the man had said, so we’d picked a soggy spot), and in went the tree (according to instructions). Tools away, boots off, and back in the house, I stood by the back window all excited. “Look, we have a tree!” I said. My wife nodded her head and squinted her eyes a little, as if to say, yes, dear, we live in Maine, we have many trees. “I think he’s Irish, let’s call him, Will O’Tree,” I suggested, jumping up and down a little. “And look, he’s growing already! I mean, there are actual cells dividing right now!” Then my dear wife smiled at me and held my face in her hands. “You’re so weird,” she said.

The funny part of this little story is that it isn’t manic or spontaneous at all — I’d intended on plugging a weeping willow tree into the back yard since 1999, but up until last Friday I’d never had a car with good enough brakes.

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