There’s a lime tree outside my window. I often find myself staring at it. It’s like other trees – in the summer it has leaves; in the winter it doesn’t. Unlike other trees, throughout the summer and into the early autumn, it rains a sticky sap, which draws swarms of wasps.
The tree also houses rotund wood pigeons. They like to rest on one of the sturdier branches and disgorge the by-product of their gustation onto my car. Which means that by the end of August, the car has a thick layer of wasp-covered tree sap and pigeon shit.
Fussy (or just sensible) minds would, in this situation, put up a fight. Either they would wash their car routinely, or move it to a parking spot that obviates the hazard. Possibly they would do both. Instead, I sit in my room, staring at the branches as nature subverts, or at least disregards, the manufactured order below.
I find that, when I stop to think about it, my sympathy is with the sap. In the end I’d rather have the tree, for all its untidiness, than a clean car. And to my stoical mind, there is a sense that if new life is the sparkling chassis of a car, true freedom lies in making peace with pigeon poo.
But most thought stops with the groomed order of my chassis, and fastidiousness about its preservation is the norm. A clean car, home, career, marriage, set of clothes – or at its simplest, a clean ego preserved in purity by the exercise of self-expression and free choice – covers the range of most expectations. It’s a mark of eccentricity to drive around in an unclean vehicle, or to not prosecute a personal wish to its fullest outcome.
But perhaps I am not exercised enough by the pigeons. A clean car, a respectable home and career are wholesome and worthwhile ends, and skepticism about them is no less short-sighted than the prickling hostility to the apparent disorder of communities which convene among the trees. Except my complaint is the narrowness of the vision, not the vision itself. A chassis is not the natural limit to all things. I can’t sensibly arrogate my choices above those of others, including tree-life. There has to be a place for chastening of the spirit rather than its never-ending indulgence.
It’s the same frame of mind that, in a different way, takes as much delight in the tree once winter has set in, when its wilted armature is stripped bare against the cold grey skies. In the summer, the tree burgeons with life: the leaves, the squirrels, the birds, the pollen and sap. But the tree can’t be properly understood until it is seen in winter; then a calmness settles on it which intimates the life that lingers beneath the competition of its months in bloom.
So in a nutshell, we all need to learn to live with shitting pigeons.