Three Rivers 17.1

Seventeenth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

AN: The Trejos are a game-generated family of Townies. I’ve moved them into a home in Willow Creek.

17. Yellow flowers on a palo verde

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Leigh Trejo had been waiting all year to begin the research paper for Botany 101.

“I know just what I’m going to write about,” she told her sister, Elaine. “And when you read the paper, you’ll know why I chose it.”

She spent hours reading about desert trees so that she would have a head start on the project. When spring finally came, and the paper was officially assigned and the topic was formally approved, she grabbed the first free Saturday to head to the national park in Oasis Springs.

The ten o’clock sun poured its heat onto the baked ground when the Three Rivers regional bus pulled into the parking lot.

“You’re Alec Dolan!” Leigh said to the Green Party candidate, who’d arrived early for a rally at the park. “My moms work for your campaign!”

“Ah! Savannah Trejo? She is your mother?”

“And Sierra, too.”

“Oh. Sierra is not your sister? Or your cousin, then?”

Leigh laughed. “No. She’s my mom! My other mom’s my birth mom, and Sierra, after she married my mom, she became my other mother!”

“Oh, yes. I understand. She is so young, but never mind. So the two mothers. Yes, yes. I understand.”

Leigh began to rattle on about desert biomes.”I’m most interested in indicator species,” she said, “but for this project I’m working on, we have to write about adaptation. So I thought, heck! Why not write about the adaptation of an indicator species? That’s why I’m writing about palo verdes.”

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“The green stick?” Alec asked. “And what is the significance of this tree with the funny name?”

“It’s only like the most amazing tree of any of them!” Leigh said.

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Alec analyzed a chess position, while Leigh listed some of the facts she’d learned about the green-trunked tree.

“You must be talking about the palo verde,” said Haley, a community gardener. “We’ve got both species growing here in the park, Parkinsonia florida, the blue palo verde, and Parkinsonia microphylla, the yellow palo verde. Both provide shelter and food-sources for native insects and birds.”

“See?” Leigh said to Alec. “I’m not making this stuff up!”

Alec laughed. “Are you of the age to vote? If so, you and your friends can come to the ballot for me! I will make sure that all of the blue green sticks and the yellow green sticks get the protection of the legislation, non?”

“Not old enough,” said Leigh. “But I bet I can get my friends to persuade their parents to vote for you!”

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The gardener told Leigh where she might find a few palo verdes of each species, and Leigh took off down the trail before the sun crept much higher in the sky.

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Leigh had been to the park once before, when her elementary school had taken a trip. She was surprised to see how much she remembered.

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She’d taken this same trail on that trip, when she’d slipped away from her class. They had all been in the visitor’s center, being lectured on gila monsters and scorpions. Leigh had snuck out and followed this trail, all the way to the edge of the mesa, where she sat and looked out over the valley.

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Those had been sad years, her long childhood, before her mom met Sierra. When it had been just her and Savannah, Leigh thought her clothes were made of lead and the sky was blue cotton. Everything felt heavy and dry.

It’s funny how when you’re happy and you visit someplace you’ve been back when you were sad, everything looks different, brighter.

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It smells different, too. Now, Leigh smelled the perfume of Texas sage and creosote bushes.

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When she’d been a kid, she just smelled mildew.

Her senses closed to pleasure back in childhood. If you close to pleasure, you’ll close to pain, too–that’s what she thought, back then.

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It hadn’t worked. The pain poked through.

Leigh had a hard time remembering the numbness and the aches. She knew them in theory–once she reread a diary she kept in third grade. She’d been startled by how matter-of-fact the entry was:

Mom was asleep again. I had graham crackers and milk for dinner. I couldn’t figure out the fractions for math homework and Mom said she’d help but she went to bed while I was washing dishes.

Those years were like that. She’d grown up alone, sad, and as self-sufficient as a little kid could be. And then, Sierra changed everything. Her mom began to smile.

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Leigh found the bench she’d sat on years before at the edge of the mesa. In the valley, yellow palo verde trees grew alongside the arroyo.

Leigh looked out over them and began to mentally compose her paper:

How can a tree survive when conditions are so extreme that the tree cannot support leaves? The palo verde are “green sticks” because of the chlorophyll in their trunks and branches; this is their secret to survival.

When leaves become a deadly luxury, losing through transpiration the moisture needed for a tree’s survival in a harsh and unsupportive environment, then leaves are shed. A tree doesn’t need them if its green trunk provides the core for photosynthesis; what provides the tree’s strength and support can also provide the needed nourishment.

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And when conditions change? After winter rains, or in the late summer, after the monsoon, then the tree sprouts delicate leaves of unmatched beauty. And when the winter rains have been especially generous, the entire tree bursts into brilliant bloom, a source of sustenance for verdins, hummingbirds, and honey bees.

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This early spring, before the yellow buds opened, Leigh looked out at the palo verdes in the valley, heavy with green leaf and supported by their strong green cores. These trees can make it through the toughest times, and when conditions are right, still burst into bloom. Is it any wonder that the palo verde is Leigh Trejo’s favorite tree?

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