First you buy tomato plants. Then you gain permission from the land lady to put in a garden for which to plant said plants. Then you weed a small plot until the rain gets too rainy. Then you go buy more plants because if 6 tomatoes are ok then 10 should be fine too and some peppers and beans and cucumbers and zucchini shouldn’t hurt either. After that you pull up all of the not-grass that is in the “backyard” because now you can fill it up. Then you find yourself unable to requisition a shovel but it is raining anyway so it doesn’t matter much.
But now you have a shovel and a tray of plants that need planting. So you begin turning the soil and find lots of rocks and even more glass. But for every shard of glass there is a nice healthy earthworm so it can’t be all bad. The ground is moist and dark, full of nutrients and animals to shuffle them around. And while you work you even out the strangely sloped earth until you are about halfway through. This is when you first meet the tree. The tree quickly loses a few roots and you move on without much thought. But there it is again and again. And now the roots are growing around and through each other and now they are growing into each other. The first one is perhaps 2 feet long, then 5, now 10. And now for every solid shovel of dirt to turn there is another shovel that hits roots and stops dead.
This tree was planted perhaps before the houses themselves or at least at the same time. It is large but not regal. It is a city tree with boils and galls for all its shady branches. It grows at the junction of 3 lots. Above ground it is forced this way by a garage wall, and that way by a fence, and growth is limited on another side by a driveway. Restrictions and rules in place to keep it growing ever taller and straighter if not healthier. But beneath the soil the tree was given no tending, no direction. Roots were free to do as they desired, first up now over, now through left and back right. A driveway may limit direct nutrients but not the persistent quest for them. And so a sprawling net of subterranean hardwood has crept from the parent trunk in all possible directions.
What could be removed from the small plot in the small time allowed with the small amount of energy left in the shoveler, was removed with gusto. Now the vestiges remain at the edges of the land waiting to be turned. Perhaps this is ground enough for my chosen green things to grow. The possibility of sharing will be considered after the application of a tape measure in the morning sunlight. If a compromise cannot now be made a new battle will unfold with a re-energized shoveler. But the outcome of the war is not in question.
The trees will always win. Unlike fickle flesh, trees can afford to be patient. I will be around tending and toiling on my small plot for a few years more at the most. The ground left behind will be more rich, even, and aerated for the effort. And so the root edges will reclaim territory in a slowly meandering way. The tree is surely older than I am, and may outlive me by a number of years. The tree has time to wait. Trees always have time.