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?

Three Rivers 16.1

Sixteenth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

16. The gap inside is filled with presence

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Savannah Trejo loved to watch her young wife. Sierra moved with calmness. To be near her was to sit beneath a willow on a summer afternoon. Worries drifted away with the dandelion puffs.

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In the few years they’d been married, frenzy had dissolved from Savannah’s life–this, despite being the mother to two teens: Elaine, the foster child that Sierra and Savannah legally adopted, and Leigh, Savannah’s natural-born daughter.

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The girls weren’t angels: Elaine fell into moods, and Leigh would do nearly anything to pull off a successful prank. But somehow, Sierra made it seem that everything was ok: even the tension of Elaine’s hormonal cliffs and valleys or the principal’s call after an entire row of lockers were sealed shut with Leigh’s favorite brand of bubblegum.

For Sierra, life–in all its complications–was simple: accept everything. Nothing lasts, so nothing need be clung to nor resisted.

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Shortly after they’d first met, Savannah tried to learn Sierra’s secret.

They sat together at a café, and Savannah leaned over the table to look into Sierra’s eyes.

“How do you do it?” she asked.

“Do what?”

When Savannah finally managed to explain what she was asking, which was challenging because she wasn’t sure herself, Sierra just laughed.

“There’s no trick!” she said. “Do you remember when you were a baby?”

Savannah shook her head. “I don’t remember anything before Leigh was born. I mean, I know the facts, but I don’t remember how anything felt. It’s as if my life ended and then started again. Everything from before is merely hypothetical. Do you remember?”

“I do!” said Sierra. Sierra’s earliest memories were of lying in her crib while the sunlight poured in through the nursery windows. “Happiness, I discovered, was as easy as holding my toes! As natural as the sunlight! That’s all there is to it,” she explained. “Simply breathe! We have more than we need to be happy! We have everything.”

Savannah loved to watch Sierra walk through the park behind their home.

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“Are you meditating?” she asked sometimes.

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“I’m walking,” Sierra replied. “Walking and breathing and feeling the soles of my feet on the earth.”

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Savannah walked through the park while Sierra did a sun salutation. She wondered if she could walk long enough that her thoughts would stop. She wanted to ask Sierra if her thoughts stopped while she practiced walking meditation, but Sierra was in the middle of her yoga routine. Savannah continued to walk the path as it wound past the garden, behind their house, through the many arches and back past the sunny lawn where her young wife practiced yoga. With each step, she watched her breath. One, two, three, four–on the inhale. One, two, three, four, five–on the exhale.

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With each inhale, she thought: I walk on the earth. With each exhale: the ground is beneath me. With the next inhale: the sky is above me. Exhale: the ground is beneath. Around and around. Her feet sounded on the cement pathway, and the sound resonated inside.

She stopped to watch Sierra finish the routine. Stillness within, stillness without.

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“I think my thoughts stopped,” she said to Sierra, while Sierra rolled the yoga mat.

Sierra smiled.

They held hands and walked together down the path, while slowly thoughts found their ways back into the minds of each woman.

“Let’s have salad and scrambled eggs for supper!” Sierra said.

They met a community gardener on the way home.

“Oh! We should tell her about the next Green Party meeting!” Sierra said.

Savannah watched the two women talk. Her mind still had so much space within–is this what peace feels like? We don’t need the Green Party, Savannah thought. All we need is this. Stillness and quiet.

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They said goodbye to the gardener, who’d promised to attend their next rally, and as they approached the street, they came upon an old man.

“Good evening, M. Deveralle,” Sierra said.

“Ah, ma belle!” said the old man. “What is the young rebel doing wandering through the park this fine evening?”

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As they chatted, Savannah learned of the old man’s experience with political reform. “We will change the old ways once again,” he said. “You tell that to Alec. All he needs to do is call. I am always ready for the consultation.”

They bid goodnight to Claude Deveralle and walked the rest of the way home.

“He was once the leader of the Socialist Movement,” Sierra said.

“That old man?” Savannah asked.

“That man,” Sierra replied. “He has such stories to tell. Such experience.”

Savannah sat at the counter while Sierra chopped the salad.

“Are you sad, dear?” she asked.

“Oh,” said Sierra, “I suppose so. It will pass.”

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A hot shower, the supper of salad and scrambled eggs, and the sadness lifted and jokes flowed between the two.

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And then the doors slammed and the two daughters were home.

“School is the biggest crock of garbage,” pronounced Elaine. She sat on the couch and glared.

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While Savannah washed the dishes, Sierra sat next to her, not talking, simply sitting, smiling, resting and breathing. Elaine sighed and leaned against her mother. “If only everyone were like you,” she said.

Before bed, Leigh came down with an announcement.

“I’ve figured it out. I want to be a botanist. Either that or an astronaut. No, a botanist. Do you think that botanists make good money?”

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Her mothers laughed.

“I doubt that many botanists become botanists for the money,” said Savannah.

“No,” said Sierra, “but you know? There are so many good jobs for botanists!  And for gardeners, too! And if Alec wins, Three Rivers will be hiring even more of both!”

“I think I’ll be a botanist,” repeated Leigh. “I like trees.”

After the girls went up to their rooms, Sierra and Savannah tidied up the living room, putting away the books and magazines, watering the house plants, folding the afghans and comforters.

“I hope our daughters pick up something of you,” Savannah said, “so that when they move out into this big world, they’ll always have a center of calm, like we do, here in our home.”

“They’ll live their own way,” Sierra replied, “for it’s their lives, isn’t it?”

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