In the sooty gray of a mid winter afternoon, maybe in February, the trees are black mascara drips across an anemic sky. Normally the trees would obscure the pastel yellow and green and white colonials, but this time of year you can see right to the front doors (most of them red). I don’t know what the most common native tree species of Massachusetts are. Red maple? White pine? Some kind of birch. These specific trees are on a hill on Blueberry Street, where the school bus swings by my house at 6:50am.
That’s the big difference between New England and the Southwest: back east, trees conceal everyone’s secrets. Down here, you can see for miles and miles in any one direction. The goods are on the brown desert table, you could say.
Of my time spent living anywhere else, I have spent the vast majority of my life on the west side of the Valley (of the Sun, not the Dolls — though we do try our damnedest to be a mini-California in these parts). I’ve come to conclude that the lack of geographical privacy gives Arizonans a complex. We complain that there are no trees because they’d be pretty — but truthfully, they’d also protect us.
I used to run Blueberry Estates to condition for field hockey. Or to escape the processed, heated air of my house. Or to cure boredom in a
small minuscule town. Regardless, winter runs were nearly always shocking because you could see my neighbor’s yards, front and back (there aren’t concrete block walls around them like there are here). You could see their porches, their swing sets, the pattern of the curtains on their windows. You could see the people inside.
In Phoenix, there are no trees, and that’s a year-round sort of fact. If it weren’t for the manmade fences around everyone’s yards, you’d see right into the pool decks and the drying laundry and the Fisher Price kitchenettes and the yellowed, dying grass. You can always see through the front windows. Where I live now, I don’t really talk to my neighbors. But I know whether or not their yards are clean. I know what their kitchen tabletops are made of. I know what’s in their garages.
But it’s more than the trees. Down here, we’re missing the blankets of snow and a fair share of overcast days. We’re missing mountains. And it’s more than the privacy. There’s a lot of pressure when it comes to living with no shade.
I don’t have much to hide. I have a clean record, and I’m leading a pretty nuts and bolts suburban existence as a 25-year old teacher, married with a baby and a dog. (Sometimes I forget to take my recycling out — my neighbors are aware of this.) There’s nothing dark or mysterious or skeletal in my walk-in closet. And maybe it’s just me with the complex. But some trees would be nice.