April 8, 2020

The Spirea Question

Guest Opinion
By Grant Parsons | March 7, 2020

Someday – hopefully – my spirit will be lounging under a spirea hedge in Sunset Park and a dog will sense it and (as dogs do) lift a leg and water it.  

Before then, of course, there are two metaphysical predicates (me dying, me having a spirit) and a physical predicate (a spirea hedge in Sunset Park.)  

Alas … the spirea hedge I would lounge beneath eternal is missing.  

The location of the missing spirea hedge – Sunset Park – is a small, oak tree-shaded lot on the approach to downtown, a defiant green postage stamp-sized space between the Holiday Inn and Hagerty Center. As a boy, I waded and swam there; during Cherry Festival I watched the fireworks there. Back then, the luxuriant spirea hedge bloomed brilliant white on the west boundary.

It bloomed for decades but was trimmed in the early 2000s. That bothered me but I accepted it. Passing by a few years later, I noticed the spirea was entirely gone. I thought about doing something, but again accepted.

Then one day, there were thunder-boats on trailers backed into the park where the spirea had bloomed. I was shocked at the notion that spirea had been destroyed so motel customers could park thunder-boats on public parkland.  

This time I did something. I called the motel to complain.

“I want the spirea back and I want all thunder-boats out of the park!”  

Pregnant pause. Two days later they called back and admitted cutting the hedge, but insisted it was legal because it was on motel property.

Unlike politics and religion and other such theoretical human notions, property lines actually do exist. I hired a surveyor to stake the property line between Holiday Inn and Sunset Park, and sure enough, the pink-taped survey stakes confirmed the spirea hedge had been on parkland.  

Survey stakes! My phone rang. It was the Holiday Inn demanding I take down the pink-taped survey stakes “immediately” because a news reporter had inquired whether the motel was for sale, and the motel didn’t want “that gossip.”

Enlivened by his demanding attitude, I replied, “Those stakes are on public parkland, just like that spirea hedge you cut and I won’t remove them!”  

My phone rang again, city government calling. I do not know why city government – the spirea’s rightful owner and steward – would side with the motel.  I told him I was considering a lawsuit to vindicate the spirea.  

He said, “Aw c’mon!”

City government apparently got some legal advice and called again. He said something like, under Michigan law I couldn’t sue for the spirea because I didn’t have legal standing, a particularized interest in the spirea.

How could I create a particularized interest in a non-existent spirea hedge?    

I called my attorney and asked her to add a codicil to my will: “The decedent’s ashes shall be spread under the spirea hedge at Sunset Park.”

I called back city government to announce I now had a particularized legal interest in the spirea, because my heirs were required to spread me under the spirea, and if there were no spirea they couldn’t do their duty. Trumpets might have sounded in my voice.

He said, “You can’t bury your remains on public property.” 

I said, “It’s ash, not corporeal. Legally, cremains are the same sort of stuff that came out of TC Light & Power’s smokestack for years. My kids can spread my ashes like apple seed!”  

I know you think this is a stupid story: Spirea, survey stakes, law, ashes and apple seed. But this is what I think: Cutting a spirea hedge so idiots can park their thunder-boats on parkland is stupider! 

Weeks later, driving by Sunset Park, I noticed a thin line of freshly-planted twigish sticks that could only be described as scraggly-ass, where the hedge had been. Was it spirea? No. But city government had planted something someone might call “a possible hedge.” They threw me a bone, and sometimes you take the bone and wag your tail.  

Years later, in the engloomed winter of 2019, I drove past Sunset Park and notice the twigish plants are dead and gone. There atop that ground where spirea bloomed are huge, dirt-smeared snow piles, pushed from the motel parking lot into Sunset Park. Perhaps due to winter’s gloom, perhaps due to the magnifying effect of time on principles, the memory of spirea unsettles me.

Blossoms like spirea are markers of one’s belief. Just think of Whitman’s lilacs! 

As anyone who’s read The Little Prince knows, belief needs tending. Some people tend belief with fine print on legal paper, some with pussy hats, some with spray paint, some like Greta Thunberg with magic marker signs. Whatever the medium, we know that absent tending, belief is replaced by something scraggly-ass and dies.

For me, the spirea question looms like a Russell Chatham landscape, something indistinct but unmistakable. I sit in the winter of 2019, ruminating on the dirt-smeared snow piles where spirea once on parkland bloomed, and I ask myself, “What should I do? Do I dare? Do I dare?”

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