Heartwood: A Tree Is Felled Into Memories

Change on my working-class block of tract houses is both present daily and years long in arriving. The walk I take south and east from my front door brings me past a row of house fronts and lawns that have been that way since I was a child.

Except, of course, they're different in ways that have accumulated as successive owners added something of themselves, took away something of someone else, and left other parts untouched by design or neglect.

A house down the block had a tree in the front lawn until yesterday. I'm not much of a tree spotter, but I think it was a California ash tree, about 30 feet high, and old but not original to the neighborhood. A ragged pile of quartered logs and some undefined bits of wood lay in the parkway strip next to the sidewalk. A mound of ground up stump covered most of the lawn.

There are older trees still on my block. They're the remaining Brazilian pepper trees that once lined both sides of the street. The old peppers have twisted themselves into their age and developed galls and bulges. They're actually ugly. But when the pepper trees flower every year, wild bees hum in their branches loud enough to be intimidating, at least to me as I walk underneath.

The missing and presumed ash tree flowered in late sprint with clusters of small, white flowers that always surprised me. I'll remember that.

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I'm not a nostalgist (despite appearances). I don't rail at change. Too much familiarity with the same scenes has been a cure to thinking things stay the same even from one day to the next.

The ash tree's removal, accompanied by obvious remains, will reframe my vista for a few days, until the empty space the tree once occupied fills in with a pattern of large familiarity and small novelty.

I should be grateful, I suppose, that my neighbor felled the tree in his front lawn. A brightness where there had been shade will jog recollection. Something will feel out of place until that something becomes part of the place.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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