Seven years have passed since I returned home from combat in the most violent province of Afghanistan. I returned to East Moriches, a sleepy hamlet on the doorstep of Long Island’s south fork, where my wife and I purchased a two bedroom yellow cottage nestled among oaks and walnuts with peek hole views of Heart Cove. The open air barbecues and the chirping birds were a welcome escape. At least that’s what I thought, until another meltdown happened.
I approached my wife like a lifeguard on an ocean rescue, physical not hesitant. Her arms flailing, with time to only grab hold from behind, protecting my own head and body. I yelled, “we’re going back to France to live and you need to calm down! I’m tired of all this sour applesauce.”
She turned away to wipe her tears. My neighbor’s landscaper stood frozen, shaken. He was a South American gentleman with a chainsaw in hand, which, to his demise was a smoking gun. Only sixty seconds earlier in the highest tessitura soprano, my wife castigated him for cutting down an old elm tree on the adjacent property. My neighbor failed to mention the redesign plans for a stretched, serpentine driveway on the side of the house. If my wife would have known, being on IVF hormones, and left to her own devices, she might have chained herself to the very tree in protest.
A month earlier, we had spent two weeks in the South of France for our five-year anniversary. In a hyper-efficient, eco rental with no torque, 50 miles to the gallon from Nice to Avion with one sidebar trip to Monte Carlo, the French Riviera took hold. The thought of moving there recycled weekly.
She chose to drive, using her tiny feet and skinny ankles, leaning back and forth, shifting gears and giving her best race car driver impression. Back erect and shoulders obtuse, her long, toned legs glistened like a red sand desert. Her white blouse sticking to a moist trail of sweat winding down from her bangs and neck. She laughed with me when the red Ferrari and black Maserati sped past overlooking the untouched, burnt gold landscape.
The coastal towns built from stone and mortar lined the serrated coastal ridge passes overlooking the continental blue sea. The origins of the municipality trace back to Ancient Celtic Tribes that used spoils of war from earlier Roman campaigns to start city construction projects and to develop innovative farming and wine production techniques for the neighboring countryside in order to support the district centers. Temples, coliseums, and cities rose in honor of Julies Caesar with the mindset of sustaining and protecting the people from foreign invaders. Stone castles, surrounded by smaller stone buildings, encompassed by an exterior stonewall into the mountainside or the sea became the architectural template.
We tried to see as much as possible, stopping in the villages of St. Paul, DeVounce, Columbe d’Or and St. Remy.
“John,” she said to me. “Look, Van Gogh lived here in St. Remy.” I spent many hours exploring the halls of the Metropolitan Museum, immersing myself in Vincent Van Gogh’s unique color pyramids and wheels of the natural landscape. His work impressed me and brought indescribable joy, as he is one of my favorite artists.
We did a walking tour and visited the actual spot where Van Gogh painted some his famous landscapes of the French country side: the same yellow daffodil bush, the same spiral tree, and the same rolling hill. Van Gogh’s work and the walking tour of the French countryside confirmed my wife’s earlier point: trees really are worth fighting for.
Art should be timeless. Enough with the Banksy spray paintings and hard hitting cut out overlays protesting society on the very canvas, I implore. Life and art should not be captured in a second, but rather preserved for generations – unchanged. Trees are worth fighting for.
Having served as an Infantry Captain in the US Army, I worked everyday to do the right thing. I can only hope as a country that we learn from France, our oldest ally. Time spent with family is more important than money and the preservation of the natural environment is the true treasure. My wife is right when she yells, “our trees need to be preserved!”