A palm

I pass by a slowly dilapidating office building on my walk to and from the office at city hall. It's a mean little box crowding the sidewalk, separated from the concrete by two or three feet of abandoned landscaping. Except I occasionally pass a man and a woman poking with shovels and a hoe at the weeds and ivy. They aren't gardening. They're keeping the landscape at bay.

I've passed by so often and for so long without looking that I've forgotten, too, what had been planted there deliberately. Until I noticed that four small palms, their corrugated, tapering trunks ending in characteristic green fans, had volunteered. It's likely that the palms had propagated from the grounds of the neighboring building. But I don't know.

The whorl of fronds springing from a fan palm's heart leave a pattern. It's expressed in the Fibonacci sequence of the remnant petioles, rough and spiky, that plate the trunk after the fan-shaped fronds have withered or been cut. The trunks of these volunteer palms express a universal abstraction. Numbers are rooted in nature's spirals.

The man and the woman returned a few days ago, and the next time I passed, each of the palms - the tallest about 5 feet - was lopped off, crownless. Sawn cleanly, I suppose, with a power tool midway down. Cut that way, the palms presented their cores as specimens for inspection. Inner spirals were there, too, coiled as tightly as watch springs.

I don't know what the distracted gardeners thought. The decapitation of the palms reduced them to posts, took away their presence as vegetation, but it didn't kill them. In a day, an inch of pale blade rose from the cores of the palms. Within a week, more curved segments spiraled up from the cut. The segments turned a sickly, greenish white, added more height, bent outward, steadied into bright tropical green, and unfolded as fans one by one.

These palms are, I guess, weeds of a sort, to be cut down as thoughtlessly as the thistles and wild oats that have crowded out most of the ivy in the landscaping. And I do not take the persistence of the palms, despite so much careless handing, as any message. Nature doesn't offer me hope.

The self-planted palms were always themselves; subjected to nature and us, but never mere things. They were beautiful before. They were beautiful while they lingered headless. They are beautiful still.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user Steve Jurvetson. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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