By Shelly Reuben
Chapter 39 - "The Laws of Nature" - MY MOSTLY HAPPY LIFE

Illustrations by Ruth McGraw

Chapter 39 The Laws of Nature

It is more than possible that by convincing Timothy Wong to climb the aerial ladder, Merritt Jones enabled people who were not at the Samuel Swerling Park, as well as future historians, to know exactly what took place on that truly remarkable day.

The teenager’s photographs said it all.

Without them, no one would have believed what happened.

In making his ascent (accompanied by an under-aged civilian), Merritt broke just about every municipal and fire department regulation on the books. On any other day and under normal circumstances, this would have resulted in either an official reprimand, or in being fired.

But circumstances were not normal, and Friday, July 17 was anything but an ordinary day.

It was a day on which all rules, regulations, and even some laws of nature, had been suspended. A beautiful blue-skied day of puffy white clouds, lush green foliage, and dead-looking trees. Trees populated by people of different ages, from different backgrounds, with different lifestyles, all sitting in our branches and radiating joy, and all immortalized in Timothy Wong’s remarkable images.







Timothy’s camera captured it all. Even the moment when, after so many weeks, friends who had been away from us for so long touched our bark with their fingertips, elbows, knees, shins, or the palms of their hands. And in that microsecond, something wonderful happened.

More than wonderful.

Magical. Really and truly magical.

Our sap began to stir.

Our trunks straightened their spines, threw back their shoulders, and stood erect.

Our roots thirstily drank moisture from the earth.

Our cells absorbed nutrients.

Our sagging branches regained their strength.

We came alive!

And our leaves…I am moved to tears when I say this…our leaves began to grow.

First tiny buds appeared, and fast, so fast that if you had jumped off a branch to take a quick drink of water from the fountain, by the time you got back, you would have missed it all.

That is how fast our buds formed into embryonic leaves.

That is how fast our leaves began to unfold.

It was the middle of July on the calendar.

But it was the first day of spring in the Samuel Swerling Park.

Some of our buds held nascent leaves.

Some held burgeoning blossoms.

Every one of them burst into full flags of glory at once.

And high above our branches, Timothy Wong clicked away.

Esther had returned to the park with Winston the ferret in her arms. She placed him on a branch. Merritt spotted them from above and shouted out her name. Esther looked up. She saw her fireman backlit by sunlight, tall, cocky, and handsome on the top rung of the aerial ladder, his white hair a halo; his broad grin a blessing. She broke into an enormous smile and waved. Merritt pointed at Timothy Wong. Then he pointed at Timothy’s camera. Esther nodded and gave them an energetic thumbs-up.

Timothy got it all: The woman, the ferret, the smile, the thumbs-up, my branch, and me.

Meg was lounging with her cockatiel Butch on the bough of a different tree. Merritt called out to her, too, and Timothy got a shot of Meg with Butch’s small gold cage on her lap, and Butch himself balanced on her shoulder, disharmoniously croaking out what otherwise would have been a pretty tune.

Timothy’s camera caught other things and other people as well:

Pepita outside the greenhouse, her husband and son at her side, her violin tucked under her chin, and her bow meting out a joyous melody of reawakening to a small audience in the park.

Ignacio and Consuela Santiago, the married couple who, on the night of the storm, had entertained frightened children with string creations and magic tricks, now sitting on a bench, holding hands, and reverently watching the foliage unfold.

And the neighborhood ladies, infamous for sneaking into the park every April to steal lilacs, but content that day to smell the burgeoning blossoms and enjoy a gentle summer breeze.

Timothy also took a series with his telephoto lens of a girl, maybe seven or eight years old, her hands wrapped tightly around a slender branch, staring intently at a budding twig.

Chapter 39 - "The Laws of Nature" - MY MOSTLY HAPPY LIFE


 Each bud was a tiny bundle of energy locked in on itself like a clenched fist, and Timothy’s camera caught the look on her face as the buds unfurled, slowly at first, then more and more quickly, until finally a huge bouquet of leaves had opened before her astonished eyes.

The last aerial photograph Timothy took before our boughs became so thick with growth that they hid everything underneath, was of the artist Renaldo Caprice. He had set up his easel several yards from his favorite tree and was sketching the rapid re-foliation of our branches.

Sketches he later turned into oil paintings, of which one is now hanging in the second floor rotunda of the City Hall Museum.

After Timothy Wong took that picture, he and Merritt climbed down the aerial ladder, Merritt first so that he could catch Timothy if he fell, and they returned to ground level and the park.  


And that was that.

The happy ending to the story of my mostly happy life.

Except for Jarvis Larchmont who, in the best bureaucratic tradition, attempted to deflect responsibility for everything that he had done, and assume credit for deeds that had never flicked a finger at the formative surface of his brain.

At eleven minutes after eleven a.m., Jarvis arrived at the entrance to the Samuel Swerling Park. He strode through the gate, aware from his visit after the storm that electronic transmissions and broadcast equipment would be of no use. To remedy the problem, he brought along two men who were carrying film cameras and battery operated tape recorders.

He directed one of them to turn on the recording device. Then, speaking into a small microphone, Jarvis boldly announced, “I and my staff have been on top of this situation from the very beginning, and it was only through my efforts at the Department of Park that policies were reversed which might otherwise have harmed these wonderful trees. In fact, just yesterday afternoon, hours before false stories about me began to circulate, my office canceled all prohibitions against.…”

At this point in his performance, the man whom Mayor Angel called “that idiot,” interrupted his oration to place the palms of his hands on my lowest branch. Then, like a swimmer about to emerge from a pool, he hoisted himself up, swiveled his body around, and came to an elegant landing on the very branch where, apparently, he intended to stay for the remainder of his speech.


What Jarvis did not take into account was that climbing trees do not forgive.

Climbing trees do not forget.

Having regained my strength, I concentrated all of my energy onto my lowest branch and gave it a most satisfying heave.

That is what I did.

Yes. That is what I did.

Earlier in this story, I told you that we climbing trees can love.

We can.

I told you that we can cry.

We did.

When we were dying, I told you that it was not for want of any biological necessities, but because we had been deprived of our children and our friends.

I said that we were dying of loneliness.

We were.

And now I will tell you something new.

Something rather jolly.

We climbing trees can laugh.

Yes. We can.

The last picture that Timothy Wong shot on Friday morning appeared the following day on the front-page of The Daily Globe. In it, the jubilant faces of the Swerlings and their friends are easily recognizable: Esther, Merritt, Carmichael, Noah, Ghita, Meg, Mr. Corporate America, and Pegeen.

What readers could not see, however, because of the way that the picture was cropped, is that Merritt was holding Esther’s hand. Mr. Corporate America was holding Ghita’s hand. Carmichael had his arm around Meg. Pegeen was holding Butch the cockatiel’s cage. Noah was carrying Winston.

And they were all laughing.

I was laughing, too.

Because we were looking down at a twelve-year-old bully, who grew up to become a petulant tyrant, and who was now lying where I had dumped him: An undignified tangle of arms and legs with an utterly flabbergasted expression on his usually sneering and sarcastic face.

Ha. Ha. Ha. Jarvis Larchmont!

Poetic justice.

A very happy ending indeed. 



Chapter 39 - "The Laws of Nature" - MY MOSTLY HAPPY LIFE