Yesterday I bought roses for Renata, “just because”.  In North America the expense of gaining the privilege of writing that sentence is considerably higher than it is here in the Netherlands.  Ten long-stem red roses in gift wrapping cost me Euro 7.50 (a little less than US$ 10), and I actually thought the price was a bit steep.

Holland, I read somewhere, is the world’s third largest agricultural exporter, based on monetary value.  And that for a country slightly larger in area than Vancouver Island or western Washington state.  Obviously we’re talking serious amounts of dairy products, but there are also vast greenhouses producing prodigious numbers of flowers and potted plants – relatively high value export products for their size.  There is plenty left over for the local market too, so one of the perks of living here is a healthy dose of giving and receiving of all manner of flowers and plants in recognition of whatever events one is celebrating in life.  Another difference from North America, aside from the price: it is quite common for men to receive flowers for special occasions.

As far as houseplants are concerned, Renata and I have never done very well.  When we do buy them, or receive them as gifts, we generally refer to them as our “victims”.  If we shop for them at the garden center we walk around like compulsive serial killers: we know they will die, but we can’t help ourselves taking them home.  When friends ask us to water their plants while they are on holiday our first question is always: “how long will you be away?”  If it is more than two weeks we’ll find a reason why we are unable to.

I’ve never had a green thumb at all.  In fact, this whole field of biology has remained a mystery to me my whole life.  I can tell a banana tree and an oak tree (if there are acorns under it), but really I know nothing about the many varieties of trees I come across when walking the dog.  From my high school science classes I remember there are different kinds of trees, in particular evergreens (whether tropical or coniferous) and the other class, insidious, the kind of forest into which Hansel & Gretel disappeared.

Trees are one of my many areas of weakness, along with music, art, and automobile mechanics, to name a few.  Start a conversation about any one of these at a party, and I’m likely to discover my drink needs refreshing.  But at the same time I’m intrigued by what I don’t know: sometimes I am convinced that if I had life to do over, I’d study forestry, just to prove to myself I’m not stupid, only ignorant and without experience.

A couple weeks ago, while walking the dog, I saw a man a bit off the path, hugging a tree.  His reverie was disturbed when he noticed me looking at him with raised eyebrow.  He moved on.  As chance would have it we came across him again a bit later, hugging a different tree.  I hope the experience lightened his day as much as it lightened mine.

Trees do give solace though, don’t they?  Trees humble me.  I love the look of them, even without leaves.  I find them mysterious, calming, solid, enduring.  Most of them will be here longer than I, silent witnesses of a canvas larger than my life.  I look at them and think: “Long after my cares and concerns have ceased to have any significance, you will be here.”  They remind me there is a bigger picture, a longer history, and for that I am thankful.

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