Tuesday, June 24, 2008

They don't call it stinkwood for nothing

Every spring there comes a day when the rank smell of urine overtakes our apartment, and I think I can't put off changing the cat box another moment. But even after I dump the litter and scald the box, the stench lingers. And I find myself thinking hostile thoughts about the rascally Iggy and even the dainty Ivy. Then memory washes over me: Ah, yes, I remember, it is the annual blooming of the stinkwood tree, the sweetly named but pungent-smelling ailanthus, the tree that grew in Brooklyn, the roachlike primitive that can root in concrete, the giant weed that thrives just beyond my deck in lower Manhattan. When I moved in 26 years ago this month, it was a mere shrub, and now it's nearly six stories high. Kind of gangly, with some stubby, lopped-off branches where it was pruned to protect phone lines, it is infested many summers with tent worms, which migrate to our garden. Still, despite its bad odor for a few days each spring and the pests it sometimes harbors, it's an old friend, really, and like other old friends, a reflection of the warts and wens and wrinkles I too have accumulated over the years we've been neighbors, its raggedy New York resilience my own.

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