I Am Not A Tree

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Coppiced Beech 400

Old coppiced beech tree on the way up toward Mount Jinba

Yesterday morning three men suddenly appeared at the my garden fence, climbed over it, and started dismantling the fence. I just happened to notice this as I was working on the computer in my study, glimpsing movement and hearing men’s voices just outside. I rushed to the living room door, threw it open, and demanded what they were doing.

“We’re going to put in two sewer pipes just on either side of the garden,” they replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world and what was I making such a fuss about?

“You’re going to what? Who are you and what right do you have to just walk into my garden unannounced?”

“We’re working for [some organization I had no clue about… I just assumed it was my ever insensitive landlord]. We were told to come here and put the pipes in.”

Sputtering with indignation I nearly shouted, “You don’t just come barging into my home and start doing construction work! You contact me first and make an appointment! You have no right to invade my privacy like that!”

They just looked at me as if I was another one of those insane foreigners, an altogether far too common attitude among Japanese. One of them, carrying a shovel, stomped over my rosemary bushes and brushed past me, ignoring the glare I gave him. He bent down, lifted away my compost pile, and tossed it over the other end of the fence. He started digging.

The thing is that my Japanese is just not good enough to handle such unfamiliar legal situations, especially when I am so hopping mad that I can barely get my English out. I didn’t know what to do. What were the proper social expectations here, since people’s ideas of privacy and acceptable behavior are so different from America and other places? If it was my landlord who was responsible for this, how could I keep my advantage as a tenant and whom could I turn to if something illegal had been committed?

Being unsure I let the men go about their business and called my landlord. He knew nothing about it and told me he would look into it, saying that it was probably the ward office, putting in public utilities.

“Yes, but without contacting me about it?” I asked.

“They were wrong to do that,” he admitted.

I had to go to work so I didn’t have time to stay around to see what the men were up to. When I returned I found the fence replaced, but two huge white concrete manholes planted in either side of my 2 meter by 8 meter garden. My rosemary had been ripped out of the ground, one of my zelkova saplings chopped down, all the plants on the ground tromped over, my shiitake mushroom seeder log left exposed to the sky, and my planter shelf upended at one end of the garden.

Something broke inside me. I stood gazing at all of this and for a moment I hated Japan and all Japanese. I just had enough. All the unending construction around my house for four years straight, with almost no days of peace, all the unfriendliness of the neighbors and their inconsiderate banging and conversing very loudly in front of my bedroom window at five in the morning and things like flooding my apartment with washing machine overflow from upstairs and not even coming down to apologize, all the monotonous attitudes and predictable behavior and obsessive concern with things cute and public propriety and staying within the lines on the notebook pages, all the times I’d been cheated by partners in my freelance work, while being subjected to racial disdain…aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I felt like destroying someone else’s home!

Then it all collapsed into sadness and a kind of exhausted numbness. I’ve had enough of fighting and finding fault and using my mind and heart to shore up defenses and attacks. I’ve had enough of war of any sort.

In the light of day I stood outside gazing at the garden again today. All I could think was I had to leave. Soon. Find some way to make enough money to finally pull away from here. The avocado tree stood at one end of the garden, the remaining zelkova sapling at the other and I wondered how I would be able to keep them safe, bring them with me. But I couldn’t of course. They would have to take their chances in this garden of changes that has erupted around them since I planted them five years ago. I wish now that I hadn’t planted them; what a waste of hope and love and life.

What do you do when you try so hard to nurture serenity in your life and little things like this keep cropping up to challenge what you love? I know I’ve been pulling away more and more into my shell of a life, meeting people less, becoming reclusive and mistrusting, so I wonder if this is the banging on the door that I really need to get my attention and start engaging life headlong again. When did I ever become so fearful? Nothing scared me so much when I was younger. Change had always been a welcome development, a chance to breathe fresh air, meet new people, and reinvent myself. Just how do trees do it, lasting through the ages, looking on at all the familiar things being ripped up, and never once wincing? They surely must have more forgiving eyes than I do.

11 Responses

  1. … I guess it’s their roots what makes trees more patient and forgiving.
    Also they don’t have eyes, therefore they do not judge, they just are.
    I have lived such a “banging on the door” while we were living in Switzerland. Some negative stuff was accumulating and one day someone threw a stone against our window. This was just enough. We emigrated to Canada. Lucky at the time with the exchange rate we were able to buy a wonderful property with a lake. Living there since 23 years, we grew roots for the first time in our lives. But nothing on this globe is perfect. Last year we got a dokument for possibly beeing expropriated… in favor of a public park they want to create. Imagine our feelings!
    … If this may be a banging at your door , that makes you look for something better, or not, please clean up, replant and give life and happyness another chance.
    dorit

  2. Butuki: A similar experience to yours, in a way, yesterday. I went home at lunchtime and I heard gunshot. I went outside and the landlord was shooting at crows. Why? Because he had put feed out for the [non-native] hen turkey that’s been hanging around and is probably nesting in the wheat. He shoots ground squirrels and rattlesnakes. He’s a Republican with a Gun. We’ll be left with cockroaches and rats at this rate.

    Canada beckons strongly to me in cases like this, but they have guns there, too; it’s a hunting culture. No place is perfect, like Dorit says.

    I agree, though, that it really does seem time for you to leave where you are. Since that can’t probably be tomorrow, I hope you can find things that make you feel more at peace in the interim. Namaste.

  3. Whew. A pretty stinging lesson in impermanence. So sorry about your garden.

    I dunno, I feel like I don’t have the courage I used to either, but I think maybe I’m just closer to the fear than I used to be, and maybe that’s a good thing.

    I too think that maybe Japan’s had its chance with you, & it’s time to give up on it. I admire you for being able to live there so long — I know that I with my hunger for intimacy and sincerity and credible reassurance would have lost it within weeks. Maybe within days.

  4. They put manholes on private land without telling the land owner (or tenant)?

    Even for Japan, that seems to be stretching it.

    Something broke inside me. I stood gazing at all of this and for a moment I hated Japan and all Japanese. I just had enough. All the unending construction around my house for four years straight, with almost no days of peace, all the unfriendliness of the neighbors and their inconsiderate banging and conversing very loudly in front of my bedroom window at five in the morning and things like flooding my apartment with washing machine overflow from upstairs and not even coming down to apologize, all the monotonous attitudes and predictable behavior and obsessive concern with things cute and public propriety and staying within the lines on the notebook pages, all the times I’d been cheated by partners in my freelance work, while being subjected to racial disdain…aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I felt like destroying someone else’s home!

    I have experienced every one of the things you mention here. Eternally frustrating, isn’t it?

    As for just wanting a bit of peace in life, I find the only way to achieve it, unfortunately, is to fight for it. Japanese people, like any other people, will walk all over you if you let them.

    Anger is okay if there’s genuine reason to be angry and it’s channeled productively. I personally think someone ruining my garden with manholes is genuine reason. I think it’s time to make a few phone calls, preferably in English.

  5. “What do you do when you try so hard to nurture serenity in your life and little things like this keep cropping up to challenge what you love?”

    Doesn’t true serenity mean being calm in the face of chaos, of provocation? Anyone can be serene in a serene environment.

    That said, it sounds like your anger was justified, and followed by a sense of despair once you realized how little power you had to fight, to protect not your serenity but your love, your passion. Perhaps you are right that it is time to move on.

    As we’ve discussed over at oncaesura, you don’t have to let the horror of the unknown prevent you from escaping the terror you know today.

  6. Phew, just got off the phone with my landlord and though I tried for several minutes to keep my cool, eventually, when he just wouldn’t give an inch, allowed myself to go nuclear. Didn’t help one bit, of course. It never does, especially in that sidestepping way the Japanese have with their indirect language. I do have to hand it to him, for he was quite calm and eventually talked me down to some kind of manageable dialogue.

    I have no idea how all this works here in Japan. When I talked about how having two manholes in my tiny garden makes the garden impossible to use he told me two things, neither of which is mentioned anywhere in the contract (which, of course, being Japan, has almost no value whatsoever):

    • In renting my apartment I only rented it for “the room” and not the garden. The only portion of the garden that is “mine” is the little 2 meter by 1 meter concrete porch outside my living room window. No one bothered to mention this when I first looked at the apartment, so:

    • The landlord (who hadn’t known about the construction to take place) and any city officials have a right to do with the garden space as they see fit, including walking into the garden whenever they like, to do whatever they like. When I stated that the point of my objection, in part, was out of concern for safety, to have some legal recourse for strange, unannounced people suddenly climbing into my private space, and the danger this could expose me, but much more especially my wife, to, he just grunted, “You have to understand this is Japan.”

    That’s always the excuse they use. Anything is all right because this is Japan. I just can’t imagine that he himself would just sit back and court serenity if someone came into his garden and started tearing it up.

    ANYWAY… I’m much calmer now. I think I’m just going to give up and let things be as they may here. It’s a monumental waste of mental and emotional energy to get angry all the time. It’s just hard to swallow all this pride once again and allow myself to admit that, in truth, I own nothing. Nothing at all.

    And perhaps that is part of the BIG LESSON in life. When you can finally, truthfully, and with perfect clarity understand that no matter how much effort you put into trying to possess anything ultimately it will slip out of your fingers. As my diabetes tells me so clearly every day (but which I am too hardheaded to listen to all the time) I don’t even own my own body. Perhaps not even my own mind.

    So the question then remains… who and what exactly am I then? Is there anything at all worth striving and fighting for? What is it that is important? If nothing can be owned and nothing truly exists, then what could possibly be wrong with anythig that people do? As Koshtra examines the definition of “murder”, all I could think of today was, anything is okay, then, right? People climbing into my garden, a child molested, a woman raped, a dog left starving while chained to a tree, 300,000 people erased by water, bombs raining down on a city, bacteria exterminated by a wash of disinfectant… it’s all the same, only different because of the matter of perspective. Right?

    Erm, this wasn’t supposed to turn into a philosophical root canal…

  7. And perhaps that is part of the BIG LESSON in life. When you can finally, truthfully, and with perfect clarity understand that no matter how much effort you put into trying to possess anything ultimately it will slip out of your fingers. As my diabetes tells me so clearly every day (but which I am too hardheaded to listen to all the time) I don’t even own my own body. Perhaps not even my own mind.

    I hear your frustration, butuki. If there’s one message I’ve received loudly these past few months, it’s that everything in my life is impermanent — jobs, cars, trees, gardens, houses, people. I acknowledge it to be true, yet still fight with all my strength to hang on to my possessions, expending almost as much energy as I do to hold on to the people dear to me. I guess to do so is human nature, or maybe my nature in particular.

    My wish for the future is to be less attached to inanimate stuff, and life provided me with a chance to fulfill it on Monday, when the first level of my house was flooded. My husband and I spent most of yesterday hauling out our waterlogged possessions and cataloging the damage to walls and furniture and carpet. So much stuff, wrecked beyond repair. Yet, as much as I cherished many of those things the water destroyed, a part of me felt this almost buoyant sense of relief as each bag was carted to the curb. So much stuff gone, and now there’s so much more space and light in my house. Maybe this is a breakthrough for me. :)

    Take care of yourself — I truly believe you do own your own body and mind, even if it doesn’t feel that way all the time.

  8. Hope, love and life are never wasted…they may not always be in our control though:0) Taking chances in ‘this garden of changes’ seems a pretty clear description of any life held by the Earth, that we humans sometimes believe it is us not the Earth that gives and recieves is partly the gift and partly the burden I suspect we all hold. But the Earth knows when addition not diminusion occurs and wholeness is the impetus of a human heart. Your heart seems to me to be impelled to add not dimminish so I am sure the Earth knows that and is thankful for the briefest planting or tending you may manage be that standing still and breathing deeply or bending meaningfully and planting a seedling. Be gentle on your self.

  9. Hi Daisy-Winifred… You always know exactly what to say. What a soothing way to wake up to another morning, and this one while I am readying for a day out hiking. Beth, of Cassandra Pages once spoke with me about how, as we get older, we tend to load up on a lot of unnecessary responsibilities and I’ve thought a lot about that over the last few months. Right now there are so many more important directions I am involved with that making the time and energy to rebuild the garden in this home is not a priority. So. like so many things lately, there is one more thing I must cut loose from my life and set adrift. If I am to get back to what is essential I guess it means learning how to edit without too much nostaligia.

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