Espaliered tree


            In a formal walled garden, so much is oriented to the perimeters.  Small fruit trees, for example, are often espaliered, cut to the quick, allowed only to branch along the brick or stone.  Crucified, I thought, when I first saw them.  More charitably:  controlled for the sake of beauty.  Humans rage to show their dominion over nature.  And, since gardens are artificial nature anyway, then why not show the hand of the gardener, in all the careful placements, prunes, cuts—equal parts nourishment and destruction?  A line of espaliered crab apples seem to be climbing the wall, spidering against the stone, and I want a picture.  I line up my family against the same stone, just in front of the trees.
            “Up against the wall!” I hear my Boy Scout Master shout years ago.  I stand straight, boy-scout-uniformed, for inspection.  Our leaders were all veterans of World War II, and the ones who became our Scout Masters, with their own “troops,” relished the disciplines of spit-polished shoes and every detail of decorum from glistening shoes to the angle of the Boy Scout cap, that cloth envelope, a troop insignia sewn onto the left side, to rest just above the forehead.
            We all had crew cuts, masters and scouts alike.  Many of us wore the dog tags of our veteran fathers.  We were festooned with merit badges, sewn onto sashes, worn over the left shoulder and extending to the right hip.  You could have seen yourself in any of our polished belt buckles.  You could almost have cut yourself on the sharp creases our mothers ironed into our pants.  We were to salute during inspection, our middle three fingers stiff, our thumbs crossing our palms to pinch down our little fingers, our palms angled sideways, our fingers touching our right foreheads.  After each of us had been inspected, and before “At ease,” our parents lined up to take our pictures.  Cameras flashed—once, twice, three times—and we ran from the walls, nearly wild.  The temporary order created by inspection must have been a comfort to our parents, whether veteran fathers or our mothers, who kept us close, but nagged our fidgeting, nearly spastic, twelve- and thirteen-year-old bodies.
            So all these years later, and I have placed my family against the espaliered trees lined up against the walls of the garden, and I’m ready to tell them to stand straight, look at the camera, to not blink, to smile. 
            I cannot take the picture. 

"Espalier" first appeared in I-70 Review









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