Of Trees and Time and Disappearance

The man down the block has taken out the tree that had been in his front yard for as long as I can remember. It was a Chinese elm that had grown tall and characteristically drooping under the negligent care of a long-ago homeowner. That first tree was cut down to a stump by the next owner, only to resurrect as multiple shoots a year later. Over the next few years, those shoots grew into trunks as thick as a man's thigh.

Cut down again by the current owner, the elm renewed itself once again as a bundle of willowy branches and a bushy crown high enough to arch over the sidewalk.

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The elm's weeping branches, their cascade of jagged leaves, the slim trunks that sprouted from the stump, and the stump itself are entirely gone now. The corner of my block that had been defined, at least for me, by this persistent tree is undefined.

Each time I round the corner, the elm in memory drips steadily in the rain, or spider webs, exactly at eye level, span the gaps through which I had to pass. It was an annoying tree some of the time, but I miss it.

The Chinese elm is a graceful tree when mature, although it has a tendency to quirky shapes. Perhaps that's why it has always appealed to Chinese landscape painters. It used to be a common street tree in southern California. But it's fallen out of favor now because elm roots can heave the sidewalk, and the tree drops its leaves in winter and small, winged fruit in the fall. (Elm fruit are called samaras and they're edible, raw or cooked.)

We often speak of the velocity of everyday life today, and yet so much stays the same from year to year. The patience of the everyday interests me, not its speed. My neighbor had good reasons, I suppose, to remove his persistent elm from his front yard, uprooting a marker of my days.

Nothing has taken its place yet.

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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