The only reason I graduated high school on time–backstory there later, maybe, possibly–was because my wonderful guidance counselor, a woman of near-saintly patience and benevolence, steered me toward a work study course in Horticulture at the local community college.
Every weekday afternoon of my senior year, or at least the ones I showed up at school (backstory maybe, possibly), I hopped on the TransFort to Front Range Community College for a few hours of plant identification, pest management tactics and greenhouse building. I learned the difference between Acer and Quercus, between Hymenoptera and Lepidoptera, between smacking my thumb with a hammer while alone at home and doing so in front of my instructor Mr. Feisler, who thought I was about the most rotten and useless seed in the whole Burpee catalogue.
Feisler was a muscular, salt-and-peppery fella partial to suspiciously tight polo shirts, casual racism (he told us of his first job in Denver, a terrible affair that required him to labor at night in a factory alongside “a bunch of colored guys”) and Bristlecone Pines. Yes, Bristlecone Pines. He called them “God’s noblest creations” or something like that–can’t believe I can’t recall the exact language, because he said it like 8 times per class–and even raised a grip of them in his home nursery. Given that Bristlecones (Pinus Aristata, to you) don’t do well outside of specific high-altitude environments, Feisler’s efforts were akin to breeding Bottlenose Dolphins to attack swimmers in the wave pool at Water World. He was a complicated man in the way that uncomplicated men bound to peculiar obsessions are: Kirk Feisler would not have hesitated to beat you to death with his bare hands, roll your corpse into an old carpet, throw said carpet in the Poudre and then lie to the police about everything if he’d discovered you somehow dishonoring one of his pines.
Yet despite our shared distaste for each other, the man did manage to help get me a job at a local nursery. I’m pretty sure he had to as part of the program, but still, I loved it: hauling bags of peat moss, unloading pallets of gallon-sized flowering bushes from Monrovia, driving the golf cart around the back 40, doing donuts around the piles of mulch, flipping the golf cart over, rolling it back upright in a panic before a boss saw, sneaking off to smoke pot in the parking lot with the other kids, speeding off on the golf cart again…
But I’d see the Certified Nurserymen, with their easy confidence, personalized shirts and knowledge of integrated natural control systems, and be struck by the thought that those were exactly the kind of professionals I would never be. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a vision of my future, it was just that the vision involved doing the exact same things I always had, except maybe in an apartment of my own, surrounded by girls with low expectations.
While that job ended the way they all did back then, in a muck of irresponsibility and recrimination, I finally realized that I’d had it backward–because these years later I do have a place of my own. I have a job with responsibilities. The girl (singular) I surrounded myself with actually has really, really high expectations, dammit, which means I’m wearing pants right now. But there’s a not-small piece of me that wishes I was spending my days tooling around the back lot at a nursery, whooping wild amidst the sheep-and-peat.