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  • Doin’ Time Chapter #19 ~ The Treeman of Yavapai~

     Anonymous updated 6 years, 10 months ago 2Members · 2 Posts
  • esselcue

    August 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm


    Anyone who knows me very well is aware that I kill houseplants. It’s not intentional on my part. I am not some crazed, serial houseplant killer and I do not go out of my way to starve, freeze, cook, or dehydrate living things. It just happens. I am possibly the only person on earth who can’t seem to keep a cactus alive. We won’t even discuss violets, orchids or fichus trees, because the mortality rate for those poor plants is at about 99 percent. The only thing that keeps it from reaching the 100 percent level is that I occasionally notice when one of my plants is going tits-up and manage to give it away to someone else before the bitter end arrives.
    My longest-lived plant was an avocado tree named Eugene that I started from a seed about thirty years ago. To say that it thrived would be a lie, but it didn’t die either. It kept growing upwards from it’s little seed, reaching for the kitchen ceiling, dropping it’s lower leaves as it went until, finally, it looked like a very thin telephone pole with four big leaves at the top. I would have left it alone and allowed it to keep stretching, simply because it fascinated me how such a thin stalk could support four such huge leaves on top. Then one day my cat, Hoople, ventured in and proceeded to do his duty in the pot’s planter soil. After that, Eugene keeled over and gave up. He was eight months old. I buried him in the back yard.
    Even the well-known, hearty philodendron is eventually doomed in my care. I start them growing at a merry pace and just when they begin to spread their little plant wings and dance about my walls, something evil happens to them. It’s as if the heart and soul drains from their little stems and leaves. They get limp and pale and start writhing in floral agony, at which time no amount of food or vitamins or expensive water helps to revive them. I’ve tried talking to them, singing to them, I’ve even bought some special CD’s, created just for plants, which are supposed to lift their spirits and energize their little plant-like souls. I wasted my money.
    A lady I happened upon up in Sedona, where I was shopping for some magical incense to overcome the aroma of my dog “Face”, told me that she plays Gregorian chants for her plants and that they thrive and grow into immense, gorgeous forests in her living room. I suspect that forest of plants may have been of the illegal sort, but at that time I didn’t care. So I began a search for a CD of Gregorian Chants and came up with two; the first being performed by a bald-headed woman named Oleander, and the second by a person or people unknown; the CD cover was simply white with the image of a Picasso-like bird (it had both eyes on one side of its head) on the front.
    I cannot listen to Gregorian chants without an image of Monty Python’s monks popping into my mind’s eye, walking along, bopping themselves on the head with their Bibles. I hope my plants are not similarly afflicted. If so, the chants probably made them chuckle their little leaves off. Then again, laughter is supposed to be a healthy thing, so maybe that’s why the chanting helps them grow. It’s hard to say, but in the case of my houseplants, it was a miserable failure.
    And so, I am the first to appreciate and stand in awe of anyone who can make things grow, especially exotic or unusually difficult species. And that’s where Ray the Tree-Man came in.
    I do not remember what Ray had been arrested for, but I’m pretty sure it was something semi-serious because he was in the jail for quite a while. He is easy to recall mentally because he had a “666” tattooed across his forehead, which meant he either believed himself to be the Anti-Christ or he was telling the world he was suicidal (666 is the code for a suicide in Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office jargon). Neither scenario really seemed to fit his persona, however. I remember him as being small and slight with dark curls and big, innocent chocolate-colored eyes, rather like the Grecian images of boys one might see on a vase or urn, but with clothes on.
    Ray was exceptionally fond of going outside onto the recreation yard. Regardless of the weather, if the opportunity was offered to go outside he always accepted. It would be easy to say he enjoyed the views and the ambiance of the airy, comfortable play area, but that would be just silly. The recreation yard at the Yavapai County jail consisted of a cement floor and four brick walls that reached up a solid twenty feet and had chain link fencing across the top. There was no view of anything except the graffiti left by other inmates and there was certainly no ambiance, unless one was partial to the stark and institutionalized look.
    Still, Ray loved going outdoors. And since he was a quiet kind of guy, never a rule-breaker and seldom anything but polite, he was allowed to go out almost whenever he requested it. The deputies who were in the control cage and had a camera-eye view of the yard never saw him doing anything wrong. In fact, Ray was fond of getting some exercise by sweeping up the dirt, dust and leaf litter that blew in from the roof through the holes in the chain link roof. No problem there, an inmate who wants to help keep his jail clean is always appreciated by the staff.
    But Ray had a plan. It wasn’t anything as nefarious as trying to escape. He wasn’t even trying to make hooch or start a fire or any other prank with which he could claim notoriety. No, Ray was using his time and skills in botany to grow trees: orange and apple trees, to be specific.
    Every time Ray went out onto the recreation yard and swept up he collected the dust, dirt, leaves and whatever else he could find and used it to fill several Styrofoam cups in his cell. To this he added the coffee grounds he scavenged from the bottoms of all the cups in the dorm, and whatever else he could find that was biodegradable. When he had mixed up enough “soil”, he began to stash away the seeds they occasionally found in their mealtime oranges and apples.
    Let me pause here to say that if I had to start a tree from the seed of my lunchtime orange, I could not do it to save my life. There is absolutely no chance. I have no clue how Johnny Appleseed was able to prance across America flinging apple seeds about so that they took root and grew. He must have been a sorcerer, no other explanation exists. The only seeds that ever sprouted in my yard were crabgrass (which did thrive) and the occasional discarded pumpkin vine, which never lasted long under my care.
    But Ray had two green thumbs. It was amazing. Before very long there was a small garden of baby trees growing from Styrofoam cups along the bars of his cell, all merrily reaching for the light from the small, barred windows high above them. Once the officers were convinced they were fruit trees and not something smokeable, they ignored Ray’s garden, even though such activities were completely against policy.
    Later conversations with Ray brought out the fact that he was an avid gardener and had done a lot of landscaping work before becoming a career criminal. Like every other inmate I had ever asked, Ray could not really pinpoint the moment or the reason he began his descent into crime. It all had to do with money and the fact of the matter was that he could make a lot more money being a crook than he could by growing trees.
    When Ray left for prison he bequeathed his baby trees, which were now well over two feet tall, to a family member. The other inmates were sad to see them go but no one felt they could take care of them properly and they were all afraid the trees would die. So we all said good-bye to Ray as well as to his little orchard. I’m sure they were all missed.
    This was not a chapter on ethics or morals; it was about little orange trees growing healthy and strong in Styrofoam cups while kept in the dim light of a jail cell. It makes one wonder exactly what it is that really does make a living thing thrive? Plant, animal or human, there is something in most of us that responds to the right care, no matter how adverse the situation is around us. However, there are still those among us who wither and die no matter how much attention they are given. It’s that choice thing again: how we choose to live our lives. We can face troubles and hardship and wither up and die, or we can choose to thrive, even in times of adversity.

  • Anonymous

    March 31, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    This was lovely love Niel Diamond

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