Leaving work today on foot, I headed downhill to Columbia City to meet a friend for a drink. Halfway to my destination, I encountered a tall, thin young man wearing tiny wire-framed glasses and a close-fitting green jacket & jeans, with a complexion so pale you'd miss him if you blinked.
"Excuse me," he said, holding out a green seedpod for my perusal, "but do you know the name of this tree?" He pointed to a tree in the parking strip about thirty feet away.
I peered down at the odd-looking fruit in his hand. I peered at him. He resembled the tree for which he was seeking identification, and his jacket was the same color as the seed pod.
"No, but I have this cool iPhone app called Leafsnap and I can look it up. All I have to do is take a photo of the leaf, and it'll give me a list of possible trees."
"Really? I mean...I....an iPhone app? Huh? You can?"
Yikes. What was I doing?! I was already late for my drink.
"And," I said, "failing that, I know who lives in this house. She'll know the name of the tree for sure."
Again from the young man, "REALLY?!"
I plucked a leaf from a branch, laid it down on the sidewalk to photograph. (Leafsnap instructions: lay leaf on white surface. Uh, no.) At the same time, I was ambushed by an excited wiggle-and-twist of blond fur: Leishka -- my friend Connie's dog -- unleashed and jumping on me and licking and nipping at me, way too happy. The leaf flew up and away, disappeared. The thin young man stood aside, a kind of half-smile overtaking his face. Leishka was loose! Where was Connie?
Abandoning my tree-name-seeker, I went in search of Connie, found her embedded in foliage at the side of her house, hard at the work of fall-cleanup. Leishka levitated and yipped at me, desperate for my attention. What the heck? This dog was literally jumping straight up, as if on a trampoline. Circus dog. Tricks.
Connie pushed a gentling hand down on the dog's side, shushed her, calmed her.
"Hey Connie. This guy wants to know the name of that tree."
Count on Connie to whip out the Latin, lickety split. Connie: a quiet, steady intelligence. A reliable intellect.
Our Thin Man nodded, satisfied, then asked a most unexpected question:
"Do you know the location of any artesian wells? I've heard there are a few, but can't find them."
And even more amazing, was Connie's immediate response. I mean, she didn't even take a breath, she was so certain:
"Yes," she said, matter-of-fact. "In Lynnwood. Take I-405, exit to Lynnwood, follow the exit ramp west until you see a bunch of people lined up. That's the well."
"Oh." Mr. Thin Man. "I've heard of that one, but do you know the address?"
Me: "It's on 164th Street, just off I-5."
"Wait -- you just looked it up on your phone?"
I thought: this is all so strange. I'm late meeting a friend. A stranger asks me to identify a tree. I'm set-upon by a small dog named Leishka, followed by a discussion about local artesian wells. I don't think I've ever even said the two words artesian wells out loud. Ever.
I made my exit, abandoning trees & water-talk, exuberant dogs.
Did I leaf them (and the barking) in peace? (Well, yes.)
(Note: sometimes a conversation about a tree is just a conversation about a tree. No social/psychological/cryptic/symbolic/metaphorical significance.)