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Uprooted

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More than 400 trees were leveled in Inglewood to clear the way for the space shuttle | Photo: NASA HQ PHOTO/Flickr/Creative Commons

I'd never thought much about our trees until my husband started proposing seriously in the last couple of months that we cut them down. Of course not, I said immediately. Trees stay unless there's some absolutely unavoidable reason to get rid of them, like they have cancer or they're on fire. Trees are not merely flora, they're guardians of the places where they root and spread. They tell us where we live and keep the memory long after we've left that place. Trees stay.

Partly because I grew up with a mother who had a green thumb -- she could make the most temperamental plants flourish in our kitchen window, including African violets -- I grew up believing that you do not cut down trees, that to do so indulges a self-centeredness that can have bad spiritual consequences. As a child, I read magic into the trees that populated the fairy tales I devoured -- forests harbored good, innocent people at critical moments and confused or closed in on the villains. Nowadays when I see a tree trunk scribbled red with graffiti or worse yet, a pale stump exposing the inner life of the tree that once was, I cringe at the violence of the act. I feel the loss. My husband was going to commit that violence over my dead body.

I also had in mind the rampage of two years ago, when more than 400 trees were leveled in Inglewood to clear the way for the ground transport of the space shuttle Endeavour from the airport to the Science Center in Exposition Park. Every time I drive down Manchester, despite the bright addition of the new Forum, I feel the indignity all over again. The trees were replaced with rows of saplings that only remind me what was there before, and how long it'll take to get to that point again. The saplings might as well be stumps.

My husband, it must be said, has a bit of a trigger finger when it comes to landscaping. A few years ago he went in the backyard to trim back the bougainvillea, and after about an hour had trimmed it to death. When he was done there was nothing left but the worn wooden trellis. He tried to argue that it was time, that new growth is good, that it was just a bougainvillea, but even he couldn't help looking guilty. Since then I've been wary any time he picks up a clipper or a saw or even a large scissors, and he knows it.

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But this time, he says it's out of his hands. The roots of the crepe myrtle in the backyard near the porch are cracking the foundation of the house, shifting it off its foundation. The two podocarpus trees that frame the house in front are threatening plumbing lines. The crepe myrtle is tall but delicate, almost gossamer. Its trunk doesn't look much more than a foot wide. I find it hard to believe it's doing all this damage. But my husband has gotten second opinions, one from our longtime gardener and another from a friend in the neighborhood who does a lot of home repair and says bluntly that pretty much all trees near a house are a menace. Surprised you've had them this long, he said soberly.

I still don't care. Trees are about livability and class. While I've grown to hate the racially coded description of a good suburban neighborhood as "leafy," I do want leafiness. This corner of Inglewood is somewhat denuded economically, and we need all the lush we can get. For that reason I love the tall, sentinel-like, intensely green pines that line this end of the boulevard; they counter the lack of commercial growth. They give us cover. And I figure that as long as the trees stand, that growth could come.

I compromised in the end. The crepe myrtle is gone, marked only by the bricked circle of dirt where it had stood for the many decades it had lived here. Now I will have to keep its memory, rather than the other way around. The podocarpuses have gotten a reprieve, though I suspect my husband thinks it's temporary. If I get my way -- and I'm determined this time -- they will stay. As trees should.
 

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