A Cape Cod Notebook 6/19/07


By Robert Finch

I'm sitting on the second-story deck this morning, writing, as the delicate, feather-like, leaflets of the mimosa tree reach out to me. In the light breeze they seem almost animate, as if I can see them growing towards me before my eyes. It wouldn't surprise me, for rarely, if ever, have I ever known anything to respond so quickly, so fully, so richly, and so unexpectedly to the minimal encouragement I have given this tree.

For the first six years we lived here the mimosa was barely more than a tall bush, its growth stunted under the thick shade of several tall pitch pines. A friend of mind suggested I "liberate" it by opening it up to the sun, so three summers ago I cut down the smallest pine that was directly overshadowing it. By the following spring the mimosa began to spread, and by the solstice had welled up almost to the level of the deck, extending its spindly branches at least two feet during the season. By the end of that summer it had filled up most of the available new space.

Encouraged by this unexpected response, I cut down several more pines, creating a small natural amphitheater in which the mimosa's amazing growth continued the following summer. During May and June the tree almost doubled in size again. Its upper branches climbed to twelve feet in height, topping the deck rail. The horizontal growth was even more impressive, spreading more than fifteen feet from the two-inch wide trunk. Now, only two years after I first "liberated" it to the light, the mimosa tree has established itself as a new and significant presence in my daily experience.

This summer, the mimosa seems less a tree and more a multi-leveled fountain, the expression of a green force that will rise and fill up whatever space is allowed to it. It possesses an exotic, emerald hue that stands out against the darker, mature foliage behind it. All summer long it retains the green-gold color of spring, giving it a sense of perpetual freshness and youth, an effect enhanced by the fine delicacy of its leaves and the spare elegance of its spreading limbs.

When the sun pours down on the leaves after ten o'clock, it seems to actually glow, to possess an inner luminescence, or iridescence, like the green plumage of tropical parrots. This effect of having its own inner light is enhanced by the sunlight passing through its translucent and finely slitted leaves, bathing the lower branches and trunk in a green, underwater light. When I look down from the deck above it, through its complex tracery of leaves and shadows of leaves, it is as if I were looking down into an ever-shifting green tropical ocean.

The tree is hardly ever still, for its fine, sensitive, compound leaflets respond to the least whisper of a breeze. In fact, the movement of the tree possesses that same, fascinating movement of surf pouring over half-sunken rocks on the ocean coast, a symphony of motion, endless complex, unpredictably repetitive, seemingly chaotic yet unified by the interplay of its form and the forces acting upon it.

As I write these words, the tips of the mimosa leaves reach over the deck rail and dip lightly and repeatedly in faint breaths of wind. They seem like the gloved fingers of an elegant and dignified lady tut-tutting me in tolerant and affectionate reprimand of my over-fondness, my over-willingness to make too much of her qualities. But it is no use; I am smitten.

Broadcast June 19, 2007