Wikipedia, the internet oracle of knowledge, is confused by the term “Corporate America” and provides a disambiguation page. Working inside of a corporation involves disambiguation, too. I should know; I’ve worked at four “Big Corporations” in my life, two of which have been Fortune 500 companies. I also worked at a slipper factory, a Howard Johnson’s, and a bridal salon.
I’m not bragging.
There was no disambiguation about Thursday’s weather; it was a glorious day to be outside. There was a bluebird sky, the temperature hovered around 75 degrees, and there was no humidity. The landscapers had been working furiously around the corporate real estate, replacing sunburnt sod and tired bark mulch. The sprinklers were creating prisms of color and steam off the hot sidewalk. It was a merry May day in New England. Cherie Ripperton and I took our lunch walk and discussed dwarf flowering trees. She wants to plant one in her home garden, but she’s worried that even a dwarf tree will grow too large for the space she’d like to fill.
We made our pedestrian loop and we headed back. I had been hypothesizing that if a pear tree could be espaliered into controlled shapes, there must be a dwarf flowering tree that would be right for her garden. As we approached the office and walked around the sprinkler, Cherie said “Do you see smoke?”
“It’s the sprinkler fog or you’re seeing things,” I said.
We took a few more steps.
Cherie said, “No, I think there’s smoke coming from that rhododendron bush.”
We got closer and sure enough, there was not only smoke coming from the ground near the rhododendron bush, there was a low fire burning between the Vinca vines.
I started stomping on the flames with my sneaker and Cherie ran into the building to get some help. She came back and said “go and get the sprinkler,” so I ran and grabbed the sprinkler and doused the fire.
It wasn’t a big deal, really, and most of the people walking in and out of the building didn’t pay much attention to two women stomping on a flower bed and flailing a sprinkler back and forth. The facilities manager came out and we discussed what could have caused the fire. Maybe it was a cigarette thrown into the mulch or maybe it was spontaneous combustion. Bark mulch is organic decomposing matter; there’s heat, gas, and oxygen involved and it does occasionally erupt into flames.
When we got back into the office, a few people asked us if we’d been “upta camp” because we smelled like smoke. I reminded my co-workers that I had been a “fire marshal” at the Big Corporation up the road and I was no stranger to fire trucks.
Cherie suggested that maybe a bird had picked up a smoldering cigarette butt to make a nest and had accidentally dropped it in the mulch. A cigarette butt would make a nice neck pillow for the birds. The landscape manager showed up later in the afternoon to shut off the sprinklers and I ran out to tell him about the fire. He smiled at the suggestion of cigarette smoking birds and said it was probably spontaneous combustion due to the dry weather.
Nothing is ever as it appears, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire.