I hate the trees in Minnesota. Not a little, but a lot. They’re fucking everywhere. There’s no escape from the giant oaks, wide maples, and imposing boxelders. There are fields and fields of trees, often standing mere inches apart . . . endless acres of crowded trunks, thick and spindly, with gnarled branches and continuously falling leaves. Unlike the Sierra and redwood forests I once loved, these trees don’t seem at all majestic. Instead they look like bad planning — like orphans left to mindlessly procreate and suffocate each other.
They dull the sun and obscure the view, and the sheer number of them makes it hard to appreciate what otherwise might be interesting, unique, or beautiful. In this way, trees, I think, are like nature’s exclamation points. And Minnesota has way too many of them.
I’m not sure what it says about me that I prefer the neat rows of palm trees in Southern California, or the leafless evergreen pines of Tahoe, or the dignity of Northern redwoods that insist on having their own space even in a crowd. Even the rolling, prickly sagebrush of the Nevada desert is more appealing to me than the haphazard and overly-exclamatory trees of Minnesota.
Many people claim to love the wilderness. They are excited about Outdoors! Nature! Ruggedness! I wonder where the bodies are buried. They see Wildlife! Bears! Eagles!!! I see round-bellied crows feeding off of carcasses. They delight in the trees. Birch! Willows! White Ash! I feel anxious about not being able to see what’s on the horizon. I have never been able to see what’s on the horizon in Minnesota.
Kristine sat at the counter in her cut-off jeans and gym socks, dirty sneakers dangling from the stool, biting her lip and twirling her hair as she studied the geography of places she’d never see. . .
After the reading, Tammie/Raven took a deep breath and closed her eyes as if my future was exhausting, even to her. I tried to suppress my laughter, but the Avon catalog was still on the table, and my pockets were full of tiny test tubes of lipstick and Timeless Ultra cologne. . .
The baby was shirtless in October, splotches of M&M colors covering his chest as he sucked on a faded blue bottle filled with Sprite. . .
His voice rose as he repeated his request that I borrow him a big. A what? I asked. A BIG!!! he screamed. I asked him to write it down. Oh, a bag. Well, he replied, dat’s what I sayd a doozen times, ain’t it?
Minnesota has been my wilderness. A land without a foreseeable horizon. There are too many trees here, too many exclamation points, and too many strange stories. I need the neatness of a valley to lay everything out in — I need to be able to see for miles ahead — I need sunshine to dry out and cure my memories.
California! Tahoe! Santa Monica! Santa Cruz! It’s still a long ways off, but in the meantime I’m peering through the shadows of trees, imagining once again feeling like a friendly native in a land of diverse freaks I’m comfortable with and who speak the same language. And sure, California probably invented the exclamation point (as well as the word awesome) but much like bronzer and belly button rings Californians just wear them better.