Monday, October 02, 2006

The Great Tree Massacre

Now that things have eased off a little bit with my freelance work, and Fearless Husband is back at sea for a while, I hope to get caught up with some adventures. Please forgive the long delays! Current news: FH is on his Fall Cruise. He has a very full schedule, as the LPO for his department, work as a career counselor for younger Sailors, a college course, and work towards several certifications. If things work out, I hope to meet him in Hong Kong for a few days. Life's good here for me, though I miss my husband! I'm now co-president of the ship's Family Support Group, which is keeping me busy. I'm still doing freelance work, and working part time for the base newspaper. I've also been asked to help the Officers Spouse Club with a brochure and some publicity for a "Samurai Day" they're putting on. I hope to spend some time this fall at Miyuki's school, volunteering with her classes and learning from them as well!

Here's an adventure from earlier in the summer that I've meant to write about, but kept putting off. (Notice first of all, in the photo above, the amount of greenery to the left of the house--the little bit you can see of the trees in my tiny yard--and also the shaggy look of the pine tree in front of the house. Do me a favor and don't notice the terrible view of me in that photo!)

When we signed our lease for our house here in Japan, it was spelled out that we would be responsible for the weeds and sporadic grass in our tiny little yard, but that our landlord would be responsible for the trees. As a matter of fact, we were very specifically prohibited from doing anything at all to the trees.

Our yard is quite small. On the side of the house, we have a driveway shared with the neighbor directly behind us--the driveway ends in our neighbor's tiny carport. One side of the driveway is the high wall that supports our next door neighbor's house and yard, keeping it from tumbling down the hill onto us. On the other side of the drive is a stretch of gravel along the side of our house, that is (ha ha ha ha) supposedly big enough for two cars.

Beside the front gate from the street to our front door is a 3 x 3' area with several large rocks, two tiny azalea bushes, and one very Japanese pine tree. On the other side of the front door are three little boxwoods. One can walk on a very narrow sidewalk between the camellia-lined fence and the front of our house to get to the little fenced yard (our house is L-shaped, and the yard is in the crook of the L). The yard itself is perhaps 10 x 15'. Behind the house is enough room for one not-very-wide person to walk...and this area is also gravelled. So, I don't have much yardwork to worry about.

Our teeny yard has five teeny azalea bushes and five small trees. When we moved in, the camellias along the fence were in bloom. They seemed a little severely trimmed to my American eyes, but I figured they'd fill out eventually. The trees were not very tall at all, but were pretty bushy. In America, I don't think I've ever thought about trimming back the trees in any house I've ever lived in, and I probably would not have thought twice about trimming these trees.

But we're in Japan.

In June, on the days it didn't rain, if I thought about the trees at all, it was to be grateful for the shade and privacy we were afforded by their bushy leaves. Then everything changed.

I got a call from the housing office, to let me know the tree trimmers would be coming to my house in a few days. I thought to myself "gee, I should do something about the weeds and grass in the yard before they come..." then promptly forgot about it. So I was a little surprised one morning to open my bedroom curtains and find two elderly gentlemen in my yard in gardening uniforms, complete with hats, boots and white gloves (almost all the Japanese uniforms seem to come with white gloves, including flagmen in the streets).

I was fascinated to watch these men at work. They plucked every single blade of grass and every weed by hand from both the yard and from every square inch of gravel around the house. The trees were trimmed to a most astonishing my American eyes, they had been destroyed. The two men spent two days plucking grass blades and carefully trimming the trees from their aluminum tripod ladders. They bagged every leaf in small, neat transparent plastic bags, and trimmed every pruned limb into 30cm lengths before tying them into neat bundles. I offered both men water, and exchanged bows and "ohayou gosaimasu" (good morning) with them several times, peeking out often to watch them at work, and to observe their short, formal and deliberate tea and lunch breaks. They both worked with great dignity and a slow but unstoppable sense of purpose.

When they finished, they swept the bare dirt smooth with homemade-looking twig brooms, bowed to me one last time, and left with the bags of leaves and bundles of sticks. (If they'd left me the bundles and bags, I would have had to space them out when taking them to the trash pickup, each of us being allowed to leave only two bags of leaves and two bundles of sticks per trash day.)

It took me a while to get used to the newly nude trees, and the huge increase in sunlight in my little yard. But the trees have leafed out quickly and well, and look great now. I'm almost dreading how bushy they will get before my tree men come back next June! I've learned since they left that the trees in my yard, especially the pine tree in the front, have been trained over years to their current shapes, and are quite valuable. They must be trimmed in order to maintain their shapes (like my front pine tree) and also to keep them small (in the case of the trees in my yard). Since I am perched on a pretty steep hillside (like many houses here) and also cheek-by-jowl with my neighbors (like almost all houses here), it's important to keep the trees in check so their roots don't push through the retaining walls and their limbs don't threaten my home or my neighbor's homes.

After watching Typhoon Shanshan hit us head-on, and observing the up-to-90 mph winds from the windows of my house, I am very grateful for the Great Tree Massacre. Sure, I saw a few little branches and a lot of leaves on the ground throughout my neighborhood after the big winds, but I saw no downed trees, no big limbs on the ground, and very little storm damage. Bet there won't be much damage if we have an ice storm, either.

I think I'll remember this lesson!