My neighbor is a concert violinist and tends to take extended trips during the summer. Among other things, I take care of her garden, making sure the grass and plants are watered, trimming and tending to the shrubs,and so on. Several years ago her red-leafed Japanese maple started its long death spiral. Here follows a series of email correspondence centering mainly on that poor tree. These are basically conversational with assorted other topics included.

July 13
Pandora to Jeanne

While walking my dog (strange things always seem to happen when I’m walking my dog), I came upon a black van parked near your house. There were a couple of goons wearing wraparound shades studying your sick maple tree. When they saw me approach, they scuttled into their van and drove off in a cloud of sulfurous-smelling fumes.

July 13
Jeanne to Pandora

That maple tree’s days are numbered because the Nightshade landscape brigade is scheduled soon to come over and start pruning, removing and facelifting the front of my house! Unless the goons come back tonight to pillage the flora in our hood first.

July 24
Pandora to Jeanne

I just went and emptied your mailbox and sorted through things on you dining room table. There’s a large pile of the usual advertisement circulars and magazines, a smaller pile of regular-sized envelopes that are all stamped “presorted std” and “non-profit,” which means they’re basically bulk mail. Then there are a few large 8.5 x 11 thin envelopes and a small DVD-sized package, and finally, a very small stack of real actual personal and business mail.

I found the Bernstein Festival envelope and I opened it to be sure it was your check. I was amused to find a note attached to the check that informs the cashing agency to require five forms of personal identification, three of which must have photos and two of which must have fingerprints. It further states that ASCAP, AFM, and University faculty cards are not acceptable ID; however a GOP or NRA membership card qualifies as four of the five items. If you can say ginormous without thinking vaginormous, that will count as one of the pieces of ID.

I will stick it in an envelope and mail to the address below. If you need me to locate further identification papers, please let me know and where to look.

I haven’t seen hide nor hair of the Nightshade folks so your front remains static.

However, there was a small Smart Car with “State Woodland Steward” livery parked just past your house, and some schoolmarm-looking lady (you know, grayish-blond hair tied in a bun, spindly limbs, half-glasses perched on the tip of her nose) poking around the red maple tree. She looked too stern to approach so I just left well enough alone.

July 29
Pandora to Jeanne

The city utility crew was out today snooping around your maple tree, sticking those colored flags in the ground to warn landscapers about buried utilities (red = electric, blue = water, yellow = gas, green = sewer, orange = CATV and telephone). Here’s what I found:

July 29 Jeanne to Pandora

Pando!! That is frightening. My idea was to build a mound on that site with other plantings but can’t imagine that will be possible given the glob of wires running together like a Parisian traffic circle, do you?

July 29
Pandora to Jeanne

A mound? We might see someone from Georgia-Pacific Monuments coming over with someone from Last Chance Mortuary to measure…

Weirder things have happened.

July 30
Jeanne to Pandora

I am bellowing from this continuous wacky sense of humor of yours Pando!!

I was looking how to spell a byrn, could not find it in the dictionary on line. You know, those little rises in the landscape in Scotland? So I settled for mound. At least you bypassed the chocolate-covered coconut reference.

July 30
Pandora to Jeanne

Oh, that’s a “berm.”

You’re right, I totally missed out on the candy bar. Shame, shame.

You can probably find a thesaurus for your iPad somewhere.

July 30
Jeanne to Pandora

I do have a thesaurus on my computer but it would not cough up berm. Probably had the wrong cue word, like mound!! What would you have used to find it?

July 30
Pandora to Jeanne

Hmm. “mound” probably, but I just looked it up in my thes. but it didn’t come up with any cue words, so just chalk it up to my rich vocabulary. Which reminds me, I was at the phys. therapist the other day and she was twisting my arm into positions nature never intended. At one point she wanted to know if it caused any pain, and I answered truthfully, “inconsequential.” She scolded me, asking for a shorter word, and I told her that it pains me to mentally thumb through my brain’s thesaurus, but how about “insignificant.” I just couldn’t come up with anything “simpler” than that.

We just got back from emptying your mailbox and I sorted through things. Among the goodies like an LL Bean catalog, newsletters from various amnesty organizations and stuff from the AFM, there was a ”you’ve been accepted” letter from the John Birch Society. Really??!!

More hooded characters stopping to take photos of your tree earlier. What is it with your tree and the kooks of downtown? I half expect to see an article in the local Times or Our Town Magazine. Or maybe a crew from HGTV with some hapless house hunters staring at your burgundian gem. I will put a sign out warning passersby from spontaneously shouting, “Awesome.” Maybe that’s why Junie is selling her house.

July 31
Jeanne to Pandora

Burn that John Birch nonsense!!

Gosh, I wish I were home to watch the parade of homes and viewing the neighborhood oddities like 40 flags surrounding a scrawny Japanese maple!

I like the story about your physical therapist.

August 17

Jeanne arrives home and finds this surrounding her beloved and ratty maple tree: