I recently have been reading Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax” with my daughter.
We didn’t take the book out of the library because I wanted to teach her about the environment or anything. I had actually barely heard of the book. She wanted to read it because it is the favorite story of a certain boy in her class, who apparently foists the book on his preschool conquests in the manner that a 1970s male might show a paramour his “etchings.”
They start early.
Anyway, the book was way ahead of its time. I know the early 1970s was its own time, full of ecological awareness, but Dr. Seuss’s prescience as to the utter devastation when nature is messed with is uncanny. The outcome of the showdown between the environmentally aware Ed Begley Jr.-like Lorax and his nemesis, the greedy Donald Trump-ish Once-ler, is like An Inconvenient Truth, but for the pre-K set.
The Lorax proclaims that he “speaks for the trees,” since trees don't have tongues and can’t speak, unless they are the creepy nightmare-inducing trees from the Wizard of Oz. The book really got me thinking about trees. Sure, I like trees as much as the next person. I'm not sure I have ever met anyone who didn't cop to being a tree fan. They provide shade, clean the air, and are superior hiding places for Hide and Seek. Treehouses, of course, would not be nearly as awesome--and would require a different moniker--if not for the support of a tree. Of course, having a neighbor with a treehouse can be a source of resentment, because, seriously, how cool is a family with a treehouse? I don't think there can be enough therapy to boost the self-esteem of the child who goes through elementary school being known as the kid who lived nextdoor to the cool kid with the treehouse.
I never gave trees too much scrutiny until relatively recently. In graduate school, a friend who had also done her undergrad work at the same university got all weepy every spring when the impressionistic Jacaranda trees would bloom. I was not very well-versed in my species of arbors,
so I had to run an Internet search to see what on earth she was talking about. I felt slightly duncelike when I saw the photos of the Jacarandas because they are these puffy purple-ish trees and really don't require much of an attention span to notice them, especially since the entire campus is covered with them. They are the university's "signature tree," so to speak. At the same time as the Jacaranda revelation, we also lived in a
neighborhood with parallel streets named Palm, Maple, Oakhurst (our street). Maybe I was thrown off by the "hurst" in our street name, but it took years before I figured out that the names of the streets correlated with the types of trees that lined the sidewalks. Clever!
When we went to tour the house in which we now live, I was charmed by the towering old Sycamore tree in the front yard. I am actually showing off a bit because I didn't know what sort of tree it was until we had a prickly British landscape consultant over who had nothing nice to say about our garden except for our 100-year-old Sycamore tree. She told us it was a Sycamore, and my husband and I both nodded knowingly, like of course we knew that. I think she found us to be more offensive than the garden, especially when it became clear we were not going to be repeat customers (did I mention she wasn't getting her usually exorbitant fee because we had won the consult in a charity auction??) The (actually true) punchline of that story is that it turned out the very same Ms. Victory Garden had actually been hired by the previous owners to design the front and back gardens. We managed to remain cordial for the balance of the consult and no pruning shears or tillers were used for anything but their intended purposes. I swear.
Having grown up in a climate where trees produce only leaves, acorns and, due north, sap for maple syrup, I am enamored with foliage that yields anything useful at all. In the decades since I figured out that fruit actually grows on things, such as trees or vines, I have always thought it would be really cool to grow food in my own yard. So when I saw that our soon-to-be house had fruit trees in addition to a lumbering “regular” tree, I knew we had scored. I supplemented the existing lemon, tangerine and loquat trees with avocado, apple, peach, plum, apricot and pear trees. It would be a virtual orchard! We would live off the land! No need to do any research as to which trees thrive in what conditions.. if it was sold at our local nursery, it must be compatible with our plot of land. Mother Nature will know just what to do.
Well, Mother Nature has a good sense of humor. As much as I want to
say living amongst trees has filled me with awe and wonder, I will tell you
the trees are the bane of my existence. The elegant Sycamore
that is so majestic for about two weeks in the spring (perhaps not coincidentally, the season of the open house...), is a royal pain for the other 50 weeks. That damn tree spews so many leaves and related detritus that it is a full-time job to eradicate all of its droppings. Our neighbors' stately Evergreens mock us as we rake and fill endless bags and trash cans. The slightest rain or wind—and yes, we have both in Los Angeles—releases new torrents of foliage and debris. And those fruit trees that
had me seeing visions a self-sustaining Eden? The single fruit that annually grows on each tree is ferreted away by squirrels before we can “harvest” it. And the mature fruit trees that have yielded fruit for generations? Who on earth needs hundreds and hundreds of pieces of fruit? Seriously, what is a loquat good for, aside from pelting my car with its sticky, putrid offerings. And I have some bad news for you, tangerine tree—no one wants to eat your sour, pit-filled orbs.
One year we were instructed to supply “healthy” snacks for my son’s basketball team, so I brought a reusable Trader Joe's bag full of tangerines. Wouldn’t you know that those damned things were all dried up inside? Those poor, physically drained, exhausted kids. All they got to quench their thirst and replenish their nutrients was a handful of dried pulp and bulbous seeds. You probably would not be surprised to hear that we have brought Doritos every sports season since.