The Jacaranda is concussively beautiful tree. Seeing one or seeing a host of them together gets your eyes drunk with a purple wine that is hard to conceive of. The luminous quality of their purple, lilac, and lavender blooms seems to be interior to the petals. You might even say that the saturation of the hue seems unearthly, but it is very much from here. Earth. These trees also spill their blooms on their boughs. They are prodigious producers of extravagant and generous beauty. And who wouldn’t want such gushing gorgeousness on their croft?
The Jacaranda started to be planted in semi-tropical cities around the world, far from her home in South America because of this beauty. And with her fast growing roots she found a new home in California and South Africa among other places. But it is those two places, among others, that the Jacaranda has also found enemies that she never knew she would have.
These boughs freighted with a haze of pulchritude are said to drop their flowers in a most stunning spiral. Their arc is just so. And when they drop and find themselves on the ground they are not only voluminous there but also slippery and also gooey and sticky.
And here is where ‘the problem’ emerges.
These blooms? They stain car paint. They clog pool filters and street drains. They stick on shoes and dog feet and stain carpets. People slip on the sidewalk on them and sprain their ankles. They do everything they can to stay or make you stay and witness them. Maybe they are trying to undo those things; the car paint, the pools, the street drains.
They. Are. Just. Too. Messy.
And so in Long Beach, California people have been fined for poisoning Jacarandas. Recently! Long Beach won’t cut down healthy trees but they will cut down ailing ones. Happily. Because even a tree that is even a little bit sick is easily turned over to the chainsawman née executioner. In Long Beach over 3700 Jacarandas have been cut down in the last decade. Many haven’t been replaced with any trees. Their stumps are a reminder of what was once here in the same way as old timers giving you directions to take a turn at the old school that used to be there.
It’s not there. But it’s there.
In Praetoria, South Africa there was an attempt to cut them all down – such was the distaste for their ‘mess’. But that was fought back and the city government spent 100,000R on ways to sterilize the tree so it wouldn’t bloom anymore.
These sorts of stories seem to follow this tree.
It is a sorrow that the standard for what is beautiful so often must be truncated. It must be neat. It must be tidy. It must not interfere. It must not inconvenience.
And doesn’t this show up in a racist country? Be proud of your culture but not so much that you are different and make ‘us’ uncomfortable by your non-conformity. And if you are …into a cage or into the margins or out on the next bus, plane, or boat.
And doesn’t this show up in shaming women of different colors and sizes saying ‘you aren’t beautiful’ and ‘cover yourself, you’re disgusting’ when their beauty might be a kind of generous offering like the Jacaranda.?
And doesn’t this show up with labiaplasty, the fastest growing plastic surgery for young women in the world because somehow their genitals aren’t some trimmed into a clean Barbied mound and tucked away just so?
And eye surgery in China and Korea to ‘whiten’ their eyes.
And skin lightening cream in India.
And is the stark and leafless tree on the winter landscape illuminated by the setting sun and rising moon absolutely beautiful in all its spareness? Yes, of course. And this is the point.
There is a war against beauty that is happening when that beauty is trying to simply have you in the presence of it in a world that isn’t always beautiful.
It might be in the nature of beauty and beauty making that there is mess, spillage and spreading that is somewhere in the architecture.
The word mess is easy and often pathologized in the form of the self-flagellatory “my life is a mess”. But you can often hear it in its conspiratorial and whispered gossip form of “Their life is really a mess.” Or of course the angry thrown bomb of somebody “making a mess of things.” And of course the poor Jacaranda. Mess. It’s one of those words that does a lot of work. But it’s etymology comes from the Latin word “mes” – a portion of food and “missum” – to put something on the table. And its early usage in English was designated for a group of people feasting together at a table and this shows up in the term “mess hall.”
So it might be that the presence of a mess could be the laying of the table for a feast. For a feeding. A nourishing. But setting a table and feasting isn’t inevitable. It requires an eye for such things. It is a skill to do well no matter how simple the feast is. When ‘mess’ invoked perhaps is an invitation to wonder where the food and the feast and gathering will be. Who will be gathered in to be part of beholding these kinds of beautymakings in process.