“Do you ever get downtown?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I like to go to Capitol Park and look at the trees.”
“Italian Pines and Deodar Cedars,” I said. “Why’d you ask?”
“Because I was coming out of the candy shop on L Street across from the capitol. I noticed a beautiful tree across the street. I stopped chewing my candy to look because I was shook up. I walked over to see it. There was a sign on it like on other trees. I worte the name down – Pinus pinea – Italian Stone Pine – then I put my note pad away and looked for a long time. I touched it. When I didn’t think anyone was looking, I kissed it because it was beautiful to me. I was in a daze the rest of the day. At home I started to tell my wife about it but I started to cry. ‘They’re so beautiful and muscular!’ I cried. I couldn’t go on.”
“They fill me with passion too,” I said. “I know what you mean about trees being muscular. When I look at how bulging and powerful and peaceful Italian Pines are, I become aware of traffic on L Street. I feel and see all this power and motion, but traffic has no beauty and no peace. Even on weekends when it’s slow, there’s an uneasy stillness from the ugly buildings on L Street.
“I get sad like you do. I never had the courage to tell someone and to cry to them about it.
“There have been times I couldn’t look at them because they make me aware of peace I don’t have and power and beauty I am afraid to use.
“I watch people during lunch walk by the pines without looking at them. The Deodar Cedars you can’t help but see. The Italian Pines, even though they are huge, are easy to not pay attention to.
“I’m sure there are people who love them like us. A lot of people probably struggle with themselves as they see the beautiful powerful trees, knowing they have to return to the office to have their spirit murdered. They want to quit work to be free, but know they can’t. The trees keep them alive, yet they become more and more aware they’re dying a slow death. There are probably days they can’t bear to look, just like a man without a lover sometimes can’t look at somebody beautiful.
“There’s always somebody who loves their job, who can look at the pines and be aware of life’s preciousness, then allow it to make them love their job more.
“What did your wife say?”
“She cried with me. It isn’t that she loves trees. After we stopped crying she said, ‘That’s how I felt when I had the kids.’ We cried after that too. We hugged longer than we we ever have.”
“The guy who planted the pines,” I said. “I wonder what he felt?”
“What do you mean?”
“B.B. Redding. He was married with kids. He was mayor here in 1856. He was a philosopher, statesman, theologian and scientist. In 1870 his doctor told him he was working too hard and needed a vacation. He and his wife went to Europe. In Italy they saw Italian Pines.
“Being in a country with all that culture and history, and seeing those beautiful trees, must have moved him like they do me and you. He had vision to bring specimens back to plant around the perimeter of the capitol. There are only a few left. I guess he thought their grandeur would suit the elegance of the capitol. He was right.
“I wonder, since he was getting older and needed to restore his health, how much he realized he could never express and never feel when he saw the trees. It’s kind of a tease. Feeling greatness we can never attain, but wanting to experience it anyway and wanting other pople to experience it. What’s great about Redding is he lived a dynamic life and was a great man. I guess he thought the rest of us could be inspired to be great in our areas of interest and with our personality.”
“You know the buildings across Tenth Street from the capitol, the ones with the quotations that are profound?”
“The buildings were constructed after Redding died. It’s too bad because he lived the quotations. One of the quotations is Bring Me Men to Match My Mountains. The other is Into the Highlands of the Mind Let Me Go.”
“Are those from ancient times?” he asked.
“They’re from modern poets,” I said. “I think it was masterful planning to plant Deodar Cedars on the front lawn of the capitol, then construct two grandiose buildings across from them. After looking at the two buildings and being jazzed reading the quotations, you become more inspired walking over to the capitol with the gigantic cedars from India, a place with more and bigger mountains than we have.”
“It’s a little overwhelming. Isn’t it?” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “The elegance of the three buildings; the eloquence of the quotations; the majesty of the cedars and the beauty, peace and power of the pines probably makes a lot of people afraid to set goals because we know we could not come close to what we just saw and felt.
“But I think there’s more to this than that. The buildings and quotations appeal to our ego. We see the buildings and wish we were a Greek or Roman or southern aristocrat. We read the quotations and we want to be great because we know there are only a few people like Redding who match the mountains and get into the highlands of the mind.
“The trees, as humbling as they are, play second fiddle to the buildings. Our tremendous passion to express, be ourselves and be free is overwhelmed by our desire to compete and be better than.
“It would have been better for everybody if the buildings had different quotations. If one building read Speak Your Truth and Only Your Truth, and the other read Listen to Your Neighbors Truth, we would all feel free and powerful at the same time we felt part of the community. There are a few people like Redding who will stand out among their contemporaries no matter what, but the important thing is for everyone to feel part of a community. We don’t have that.
“Imagine reading quotations like those I made up. It’s a healthier challenge to accept ourselves for who we are than to try to be great beyond our abilities. We’re unhealthy because we refuse to live our truth.
“You know that row of ugly buildings on L Street?”
“They stand for the grandeur we don’t live and the passion and expressiveness we deny. We can’t live the stateliness that we see in the capitol and the two buildings on Tenth Street, but we easily live the lifelessness and constraint of the ugly buildings.
“It’s a struggle for me,” I continued. “When I see the quotes on the buildings I want to be great, to be an important person who knows everybody at the capitol. When I see the trees, I feel I am not livng my passion and beauty, or if I’m confident, I’m inspired to continue to live my truth and be my self. The ugly buildings make me rage because they aren’t great, scare me because they are ugly and make me sad because they stifle my freedom and expression.”
“I don’t know what I’ll do when the last of the Italian Pines blows over or is cut down.”
“We can plant new ones,” he said, “Like Mr. Redding did for us.”