Roots Unraveled

Bulldozers trampled on my land with their rubber treads on the last day of March. The murky yellow of the vehicle becoming red in the hours of dawn. Handsaws and hand axes hanging out the window. They had come.

***

On March 20, 2020, a mail truck cut the view out my kitchen window. It quickly sped away. I couldn’t blame him, sometimes I got tired of the solitude on my land too. Only endless skylines of banks and law firms loomed over my house shadowing land meant to be sown in sun. What did they want? I never got any mail.

I stopped trying to justify the appearance of the truck and headed to the mailbox. Closing the door, I walked to the end of my driveway, wrinkling my nose in distaste at the smell of gas. Waiting for me was one letter.

Department of Transportation? My car’s tires only hit the pavement of the driveway a few times a year. Curious to see what challenge awaited my maroon Honda, I placed the letter with the daunting stamp in my overalls. I walked to read it under the tree in my front yard, the only tree in my view since the construction boom.

Dear Ms. Abigail Jenkins, 

This is a declaration of eminent domain by the local government of Roanoke, Virginia, on behalf of the Department of Transportation. We have deemed that the condemnation of your property is necessary for the public good of our city. A highway connecting Roanoke to I-95 will be constructed overtop your current property. 

Appraisals of your land will take place upon in-person nspection of your land and home. 

The government will help in your search for relocation and provide compensation for the market value of your home. 

I guess the Department of Transportation was not referring to my car. I faced the old oak tree that was twice my 80 years, but five times my size. The first frost of winter had covered part of the bark in a thin layer of ice, but I could still see the letters carved deeply into the bark. RJ and SJ. Richard Jenkins and Sarah Jenkins; my grandparents. They carved their initials into this oak tree upon moving to this farm, once outside the city. Brushing my fingers across the initials like my grandparents once brushed their hands across the oak, I shivered. I wrapped my body in the yellowing leaves of the tree, the leaves’ veins modeling my own. The branches loomed over me.

Much of my life had been spent climbing these branches, swimming in the leaves, but now I seemed to be drowning. The letter dropped to the ground. My roots were not meant to have a price. They were not meant to be taken away, least of all by the Roanoke Local Government.

I was naked without these leaves wrapping around me.

The city that my grandparents so quickly escaped from would now be my home. I gazed at the smog-covered skies drenched in noise of erratic traffic, the attendees treading the water of profit and business. I. Would. Drown.

My land would be covered by a bridge of the erratic cars I so despised.

For 10 days, I have composed an indignant message of my own:

I will not give up my land for the profit of the business-driven city. The tree, my farm, even my maroon Honda would be relocated to the metropolitan area, too big a move for my roots. I won’t allow the smog to taint my skin, the car horns to become an irregular heartbeat because I was too attached to the leaves that I sat in now. I had sowed this isolated land and was determined to keep all the grains I had spread.

I re-read the letter. I hadn’t noticed something at the bottom:

Court Date: March 3, 2020

***

March 30th was when I climbed the tree, straining my limbs to submerge them to the branches. The hand axes now belonged to the hands and feet which tread upon my land belonged to the government. They had arrived swinging their blades. Hack-hack-hack. The sap of the tree bled red.