Being a Quercus

My name is Ande Quercus. Last April, I got a book called The Magic of Trees as a gift from my friend Erin. I learned that oak trees (genus Quercus) are associated with various thunder gods because of their reputation for getting struck by lightning more than other trees. Elysa and I had a good laugh and called me “Ande the thunder tree” because of my impressive gassiness. But the association of Quercus with lightning soon came to have deeper spiritual meaning for me.

Last year was my first year at Midway Green Spirit Garden, the big awesome community garden in my neighborhood. Signing up was a big deal for me. I love plants. I love gardening. But a big part of community gardening is interfacing with other humans. A lot of them. Fifty-one plots’ worth, if I remember correctly. I’m afraid of humans, so this was really overwhelming for me. But I’m getting to know the people there. The most intimidating part has been the humans I encounter while traveling the mile between my house and the garden.

Last May, I had just picked my plot and gotten my volunteer assignment in tool maintenance, and I was really excited to jump in. One day, when I was biking home from the garden on a marked bikeway, some asshole in a pickup truck towing a large utility trailer cut me off to pull an aggressive but slow u-turn. I honked my air horn while skidding to an abrupt halt. He blocked me from traveling down that street for a minute or two. When he finally parked and let me pass, he shouted a rape threat at me.

This incident was really upsetting for me. I imagine it would be for most people. Less than a week after it happened, I had an appointment with my psychiatrist. I told him I was still upset about the rape threat that had recently been directed at me. He laughed and told me I was inviting that kind of treatment by choosing to look the way I do (i.e. conspicuously gender non-conforming). To be clear, my doctor, who was supposed to be helping me manage my PTSD symptoms, told me I was inviting violent threats by not shaving my face when others wanted me to.

He went on to tell me that I’m basically a lightning rod. What is a lightning rod? It’s a thing humans build to attract dangerous lightning strikes away from important things. Its purpose is to get struck by lightning so other things don’t. I dislike being called a lightning rod.

After my upsetting appointment, I was a mess. Elysa let me cry on her and shout in anger at being blamed for the violence I endure. “I’m not a lightning rod,” I wept, not quite believing it as I said it. “You’re not a lightning rod,” she assured me. “You’re an oak tree, Ande Quercus.”

MacGyver the Storm Drain

The storm drain in my alley needs regular help to keep up with its job. I noticed this during my first winter living here. The alley became a lake during a thaw and it took an auger truck half a day to get it draining. It was a huge operation. I felt a little sad about the money and waste that went into fixing a problem I might have been able to prevent. I set a personal goal to prevent our block from needing that service again.

When my city started an Adopt-a-Storm-Drain program, I immediately adopted that drain. The program let me name the drain, so I called it MacGyver, in honor of my recently deceased pet rat. I think MacGyver is a higher maintenance drain than some of the others, which makes my job extra important.

When MacGyver has a crisis, the alley floods, and then I run around giggling in my rain boots until I fix it. Unclogging that drain is one of the funnest things I do in life. MacGyver gets clogged with two main things: pine needles and ice. Pine needles aren’t the type of leaf one rakes, so sometimes it takes a heavy rainfall to get them all in one place.

Several months ago, there was a rainstorm so fierce that it clogged MacGyver with pine needles and then flooded the alley to the point that people’s trash carts started floating away. I threw on my rain boots, grabbed my tiny rake, and got to work. The water was so deep at the storm drain that it spilled over the top of my rain boots, which are a foot tall. It was tough to pull the clumps of pine needles away from the drain because of the extreme suction. I squealed with glee when a vortex formed in the draining water. And just like that, I likely saved one or two neighbors from catastrophic basement flooding. I may have even prevented flood damage to a neighbor’s car engine, because it was too deep to drive through.

This morning, Elysa brought it to my attention that MacGyver required my assistance. I could hardly wait to get to work. I grabbed my ice chipper, put on my rain boots and hurried out to the alley. This was a special opportunity. Breaking apart ice that’s under a puddle is a unique experience. I can’t really see the chunk of ice I’m working on, so I have to go by feel. Poking around with my ice chipper gives me a general idea of the shape of the ice.

my feet in rain boots, standing in ice water that's almost eight inches deep
Before: here are my feet standing in ice water that is almost 8” deep.

Finding a storm drain under four inches of ice is tricky. The first thing I do is get down to the pavement somewhere nearby. As a hard-of-hearing person, I get a lot of important information from the vibrations I feel through my feet. I’ve spent enough time with MacGyver to know how the ground vibrates nearby. Once I get my boot on the pavement and tap around it with my ice chipper, I have a pretty good idea where MacGyver is. I had to clear a few slots on the drain cover before the water started to flow. The initial trickle helped erode the ice and improve the drainage.

my feet in rain boots, standing next to my ice chipper on the storm drain I just cleared
After: here I am standing in the same place, on the newly visible storm drain.

I watched and listened to the draining water for almost 45 minutes before going back inside. Today has made me enjoy being hard-of-hearing. My deaf ways helped me find the storm drain, and I still got to enjoy the the amplified sound of the flowing water when I’d achieved my goal.