Prose Header

The Tree Museum

by Marjorie Salzwedel

part 1 of 2

It was a very warm day in May of 2057 when Roger and Sarah Henderson, an optimistic, thoughtful couple in their mid thirties, traveled along on Interstate Five headed toward the Placerita Canyon and Santa Clarita with their daughter. Five-year-old Janie sang softly in the backseat, “We’re going to the tree museum, the tree museum, early in the morning.”

The sky darkened, and a sudden sandstorm blew across the road in front of them as they headed east out of the Simi Hills into the Santa Clara Valley. The family stared at the windshield that was suddenly layered with sand in split-second kaleidoscopic patterns as the wind teased it.

Roger slowed, turned on the heavy-duty elastomer wiper blades and watched them sweep across the windshield pushing the heavy sand to the sides again and again, working like a slow metronome.

Roger pulled over and stopped their slick new bullet-shaped sedan at the side of the road to wait for the storm to pass. Little Janie leaned over from the backseat to stare at the GPS screen on the dashboard to see how many other cars had pulled off the road.

In a few minutes the storm had moved on, and the Hendersons in their solar-powered Road Runner 8 were on the highway again, avoiding the pile of sand that blocked the inside lane on the wide Antelope Valley Freeway.

“Thank goodness, we got through,” Sarah sighed with relief.

“Are the oxygen kits and cases of water in the back?” Roger asked

“They’re under the seats as usual.”

“I put the replacement Solarpak engine there yesterday, after it was inspected.”

“I know,” Sarah said, as she patted her husband’s arm. “I saw the green sticker with the vehicle approval stamp on the windshield. They knew that the GPS monitoring satellite above them registered their positioning and whereabouts.

The three of them gazed out at the clusters of thousands and thousands of identical houses they passed. The ivory-colored homes, each with small windows and a wide garage alongside, were built close to one another, strung out on wide streets wound around low hills like tight-beaded necklaces.

“All these houses look like the houses on our street,” Janie said in an approving voice. “Some front doors are blue, some red, and some are green like ours.”

“Yes. They’re all pretty, and with their shutters to match the colors of the doors.”

“Like ours.”

“Yes, just like ours.”

If only the towns had trees and shade from the hot sun, Roger thought. These houses look sun-baked like all the houses in all the nearby towns. He kept these ruminations to himself as a sardonic laugh escaped from his throat thinking about the absurdity of his wish. He knew, as everyone in this part of southern California knew, that before a year was out, the frequent sandstorms, and the mysterious spores and microbes they carried when they came, would kill any tree planted outside anywhere for a hundred miles.

After the Hendersons left the freeway and went onto State Road 14 to Santa Clarita, they passed the gate leading to the solar farms where thousands of metal mirrors in small open boxes spaced like cabbages captured and trapped the sun’s rays. After a few more turns, they arrived at the grand entrance at of the Oasis Arboretum.

“I wish the largest biosphere in California on the other side of the arboretum was open to the public,” Roger said. We’re so close, and what a privilege it would be to tour it.”

“You’d have to work for the federal government, ” Sarah sighed. As a teacher, Roger had numerous holidays. Sarah worked a few hours each day at home as a nutrition counselor so the family often had permission to travel when they had approval to use the expressways. “We’re fortunate to be here as it is.”

They stared at the gigantic vaulted greenhouses of the arboretum. “Some of these are nine stories high to accommodate the tallest trees. Inside, the twelve solariums, there are 530 species of trees from different regions of the world. Imagine, all that in 800 acres!” Roger announced excitedly.

The botanical gardens are beautiful too,” Sara added.

“Yes, and always changing,” he added.

It was nine o’clock, and the gates were open. The family parked on the first floor of the parking garage. Some people had already arrived when the gates opened at eight.

“We’re in Row H!” Janie exclaimed, sounding excited.

They walked from the parking garage past a row of kiosks of honey-glazed apples, expensive oranges and sandwiches for sale in the automatic vending machines. When Janie glanced at her mother, Sarah smiled and pointed to the tote of sandwiches and the precious hydroponic apples that they had brought from home. Janie, proud that she had helped make the egg-salad sandwiches in their snack tote, smiled back while holding onto her father’s hand.

They could see the surveillance cameras everywhere as they stepped up and onto the shoe-inspection scanner. After they were cleared, they each peered into the retina scan for immediate security access, a requirement for admission. Accepted by the gate’s automatic eye without triggering a buzzer, they boarded the tram, one of several dozen remote-controlled visitor shuttles that seated ten. Its engine was so quiet that all that could be heard was the whoosh of the wind alongside.

“There aren’t many visitors today,” Sarah said with a look of concern. “You don’t think they are afraid of the Chasians? On the news yesterday, that new regime said they are going to strike somewhere in the U.S. one of these weeks.”

“People probably stayed away because of the forecasted sandstorms, and it is a workday. It’s only a holiday for some so it was easy to get reservations.” Roger gave Sarah a look of warm confidence to assure her. “Nobody would go anywhere if we took the Chasians seriously. They’re on the other side of the globe. They’re not even a real superpower yet. They’re still killing each other.”

The family passed the Japanese pavilion with its plum, cherry, and pagoda trees. The English pavilion, lined with wide-limbed maples and short crab apple trees full of pale pink blossoms, was suddenly behind them. They were beside the African forest of rubber, exotic coffee and beech trees when Roger pushed the buzzer and the tram stopped at the next entrance. They stepped off at their favorite solarium, Trees of the Midwest.

“This is like the forest where Red Riding Hood lived. But there’s no wolf here,” Janie said as she searched her father’s face for assurance.

“No, no wolf here,” her father confirmed.

“Why don’t we have trees by our house?”

“Trees outside have been gone a long time. The wind and sand swept them away,” Roger answered.

“This all happened before our parents were born. Could we not talk about it?”

Janie was clinging to her mother’s side, her gray eyes wide, looking at the dozens of canaries that suddenly appeared. “You’ve scared Janie now,” Sarah whispered.

“She’s watching the birds,” Roger said matter-of-factly. “Another thing we don’t have.”

“Please, Roger, we have other things.” “We have a good life and all the amenities. For heaven’s sake, we live in California.”

“I know, as they say, ‘the high-tech state where everyone is safe’.”

“We’re fortunate then,” Sarah sighed.

Roger stared at the glass ceiling. “These glass-and-steel structures can withstand seismic shaking up to 9.5 on the Richter scale,”

She stepped closer and kissed him on the cheek. He reached around her small shoulders and hugged her.

He liked impressing his wife, “These buildings are considered among the safest places in the nation, along with those ten-year-old rust-bucket dirigibles on every other corner in California that they believe they’re actually going to use some day. I suppose a day will come eventually.”

“Well, I remember the airlift five years ago when we had that rumble. They are comfortable to sit in.” Sarah took a deep breath, “I remember the year this Arboretum won the Peace Prize,”

“I remember they nicknamed this place, ‘California’s Botanical Garden of Eden’.”

The family stopped to admire a flowering dogwood sprawled alongside the Wisconsin Weeping Willow. They walked on through the grove of hemlocks. Janie picked up the dry soft needles that covered the ground.

“Hmmm, these smell nice,” Janie murmured to herself as she sifted them through her fingers.

“In the Amazon they have trees that move,” Roger said. “I think it’s the stilt palm. They can relocate themselves an inch a year. There’s one in the Southern Pavilion.”

“I remember reading about that,” Sarah replied.

A man and a woman who they had seen along the path in front of them at a distance disappeared from view. The black maples were on one side now, the red, silver and sugar maples on the other, all of them with their crowns towering high above them. They went farther into the forest where they saw the varieties of oaks — the red oak and the white. They crossed over a small footbridge under which was a narrow stream of water bubbling over flat rocks.

“The water is recycled. It flows all the way around to the beginning.”

“You mean it circulates like a fountain,” Sarah said.

“Yeah, they don’t waste water.”

“The little river is like a mirror, and the trees look blurry in it.” Janie stared at her reflection. “I’m blurry too.”

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2007 by Marjorie Salzwedel

Home Page