Maybe some big cities are better at tending to the plants and planted areas in their care. In St. Louis, things often seem to run to ruin. When I run several mornings a week, I follow the River des Peres Greenway, a landscaped, paved path for runners, walkers, and bicyclists. I run about a mile and turn around in a section of the path I call Cypress Hollow, because it is a quiet, recessed area lined with several cypress trees. The cypress has been my favorite tree for a while, probably since there was one in the front yard when I lived in the country. I had been unfamiliar with the species, and found it fascinating that there was a deciduous pine tree. I understand that some of the landscaping along the Greenway is ‘prairie reclamation,’ meant to seem like wild nature taking over. But that shouldn’t be an excuse for letting vines and weeds grow thickly through these beautiful cypress trees, strangling their growth.
In the town where I work, which is only a stone’s throw from here, there is a lively discussion going on in the local paper about whether kudzu or bush honeysuckle is the more invasive weed. That paper’s letters to the editor section is always a forum for know-it-alls, and now someone has written to suggest two more alternatives—raccoon grape and wintercreeper. I am not sure what vine it is choking the cypresses down in the Hollow; I only know that no effort is made to clear it out. I worry that these trees will eventually die, swallowed whole by kudzu, wintercreeper, or whatever.
It has gotten worse since I came to live in my flophouse apartment in late winter, 2016. I have been through three springs here, and am now in the death throes of my third summer. It will be my last summer here. For three summers have I watched the prairie grasses and wildflowers along the Greenway grow and bloom and attract bees and butterflies, goldfinches and cardinals. This spring I began to notice an unusual number of bunnies hopping in and out of the tall grass, which is heartening: but I also notice more hawks about. I also see that the invasive vines are creeping ever higher and thicker in the cypress trees. Now my personal affairs are getting back in order, and I am looking for a new place to live. Barring some misfortune, I am living my last lease at the flophouse.
There are things I will miss. One of them is having a running path practically in my front yard. I will miss watching the artificial prairie grow, and especially my cypress trees. As I pass them in the cool mornings of late summer I think that wherever I move, I will come back sometime to see them, see how they’re faring. But you know what? I won’t. That’s not what Americans do. We move on, we move ahead. The seasons are cyclical, autumn follows summer, winter follows autumn, but we are restless, always moving on, always imagining that we are moving ahead: we do not like for the new season to find us exactly where we were last season.
Am I comfortable where I live? Mostly. But there is something about the flophouse that does not represent who or what I am as an American man, and now that I am able to move on, I will move on, because that’s what we do. And I may say that I can always come back and see my stand of cypress trees, see if the ducks still gather in the pools of the Hollow in spring, see if anyone has taken steps to protect this area from invasive weeds; but I know I won’t. As I leave the Hollow on my way back home, I cross the bridge over Watson Road—which is, by the way, the local name for old Route 66. I already feel it like a countdown, the number of times left that I will cross this bridge, until at last I cross and never look back, leaving cypresses, bunnies, and the recent past to be swallowed whole.