Saturday, February 12, 2011

Psssst, Lorax: I Have Some Trees For You....

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.  


  1. That is soooo cool that they named the street for a tree AND then lined the sidewalks with it! Oh and I will reign in my jealousy at all your fruit trees then, phew.
    I have found men have a different perspective on trees. Every man I have ever known that has looked at a new house with me (not just boyfriends, friends, husbands of friends etc) has immediately zoned in on one or two trees in the yard and said, "That's got to go. If that comes down on the house. . . "

  2. Hi, Josie--Truthfully, if it didn't cost copious amounts of money to do any real landscaping, there may be a tree or two that might be "sent to live on the farm." But since we are very thrifty, we only got rid of small, dead foliage. Anything that might require more muscle than two non-athletic people, or more equipment than a spade and shears, stayed. Actually, a very large tree DID fall precariously near someone's house just down the street and there were city workers assessing the damage for weeks. I think they were excited by all the billable overtime hours they were accumulating staring at the fallen tree trunk and drinking coffee :). Take care! Karen

  3. I am laughing at both of the comments and the article had me snorking! I have three, count em, three pecan trees in my back yard. I stuck the pecans in a potted plant years ago, eons ago, and they came up and Steve planted them...I said at the time aren't they too close together? aren't they too close to the house? and got snotty looks from him for both comments....
    SO now I have three trees over 30 feet tall, with branches that embrace each other, and lean across the roof of my house for support. And of course, the grass won't grow in shade, so for a backyard we have a mudhole, with dog condos and a wading pool for the dogs, so they can make more mud. And where do the leaves from those three trees fall? All over the beautiful back deck and hot Steve keeps a leaf blower plugged in, and we sit on the deck and look up at our lovely pecan trees...
    ...and watch the squirrels steal every pecan.

    I just LOVE your blog Karen!

  4. Hi, Cath! Yours is certainly a cautionary tale... We are hoping to dodge that bullet by planting only "dwarf" species of trees. Has a two-fold benefit: hopefully wont grow that big, and makes us feel tall when we are in our garden! As for the squirrels (by the way--I am petrified of small animals), I bought some sort of contraption at the "As Seen on TV" store (sigh) that is supposed to scare them away with some sort of high-pitched infra-red sort of deterrent. However, I am convinced that we will have comatose squirrels lining our yard if I actually use the device, so it remains in the garage. LOVE your blog too! Read it every day! Best, Karen

  5. Doritos aren't healthy? They don't come from Dorito Trees?

  6. Hi, Doug--You have "Team Parent" written all over you! When your baby is old enough for soccer, let me know and my kids will be on your kid's team :). Of course, we know Doritos fulfill most of the major food groups: carbs, cheese, crunch, orangey color... what are the other food groups again? Take care! Love your blog and read it every time! Best, Karen