Driving along, I noticed a terrible thing.
I pointed it out to my husband: a tree with orange, red and yellow leaves on its outermost branches. “How terrible,” I said. “It’s a sick tree.”
This is a tradition in our family, the wide-eyed denial of the obvious in an attempt at humor. Our portion of the world is blessed with more than its fair share of wintertime, so we ward it off by being stupid. Because as I’ve pointed out before on this weblog, God looks out for fools, drunks, the United States of America, and me.
If I insist we are only seeing a sick tree, then the worst that happens is a dead tree. The tree might, of course, recover. Most likely, what will happen is that all the trees in the area will contract a similar illness, painting the roadside like the top half of a rainbow before fading and creating a thick crunchy carpet all over our lawn. But until that happens, I shake my head (or he shakes his head) and we murmur, “Oh, the poor sick tree.”
We do that a lot. “What’s that white stuff?” I say, staring in horror out the window. “Has powdered detergent fallen out of a passing airplane?” If so, the plane was planning on laundering Europe. The next day, with the world white and frozen, I watch more of the stuff whipping around in the air, and my Patient Husband assures me, “It’s just snow blowing off the roof.” Of course: surely we’re not getting another four inches today. It’s just the stuff on the roof, redistributing itself.
Willful stupidity is a kind of insulation of the brain. As long as I can joke about sick trees and stuff just blowing off the roof, I don’t have to worry just now about the cold, the early dark, the heating bill, and whether the winter coat will last one more year. No worries about ice on the road, or hours of leaf-raking or endless snow-shoveling. It’s just me facing a sick tree.
Patient Husband: The mums are blooming.
Me: They can’t be. Mums bloom when summer ends. That must be a strange colorful fungus on the ends of the stems.
Patient Husband: Of course it is.
Of course, we still humor the world by pretending they know what’s really going on. We will, just to make other people feel better, pull out the thick coats, sweaters, boots and mittens. But it’s really not necessary. After all, it’s just a sick tree.