Every Day is Arbor Day

A Word in the Woods

Arbor Day is in April, on a day that falls in early spring in Nebraska, where Arbor Day began in 1872. It's a state holiday there.

Here, every day is Arbor Day.

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I walk about a mile from my house to the basement cubicle at city hall where I'm sorting out Lakewood's history. And in that mile, I pass trees that came here from five continents and perhaps a dozen climate zones.

The crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) on my street are blooming now, from garnet red to bubblegum pink. Like many cities, Lakewood has been replacing older, troublesome street trees with crape myrtles. They're slow growing, don't generally lift sidewalks and curbs, and look pretty while in flower.

A crape myrtle can be cultivated, but it can't be controlled. And no street tree is perfect. Given human nature, there will always be someone who has a grudge against his street tree. Having a representative of nature at your curb - even as tamed as a city maintained tree - is too much for some of us. Abuse, neglect, and instances of tree killing follow.

My neighborhood is older than the rest of Lakewood, so my block doesn't have a uniform treescape, although crape myrtles predominate. Homeowners over the decades have planted their own version of a prefect street tree, probably based on the way the tree looked in a five-gallon can at the nursery. Those trees grown old haven't worked out well, buckling concrete and bulging roots into the roadway asphalt.

Yesterday, a tree crew took down an overgrown Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia) at the curb, dismantling the limbs and trunk into four-foot lengths. A pair of misplaced magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) rise column straight down the block. The crew may have to return one day.

At the end of the block, on the long, unpunctuated parkway panel that separates the service road from the highway, the boles of the eucalyptus trees (Eucalyptus globulus) are turning from pale green to gray. Next winter and spring, the eucalyptus bark will peel off in palm-sized flakes to litter the gutters and lawns of the houses nearby. Still smooth for a few more weeks, the trunks of the trees are as sleekly curvy as a Maillol nude.

The jacarandas (Jacaranda mimosifolia) on the north side of the service road have dropped all of their purple/blue flowers; a few still pop under my step. These trees will bloom again in a few months, although with less exuberance. In Southern California, jacarandas blossom twice a year, which makes the many who hate jacarandas for the blue mess they make even more outraged. Sometimes great beauty is unendurable.

None of these trees is native to this place; neither are we. The trees are migrants like us, thrown together on my block. We charm or infuriate each other until each of us, having reached our limit, is cut down and carried away.

Before we are, we might hope to imitate the inoffensive crape myrtle - kindly, fitted to its place, flowering generously.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The images on this page are from public domain sources.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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