We drive through the city and I call out the trees: Ginkgos, Indian Laurels, the huge variety of palms. The Jacarandas are easy to spot this time of year with their casacade of purple. The Golden rain and Gold medallions are standouts right now too: the former an explosion of tiny yellow blooms in a conical star shape, the latter huge bunches of deep yellow blossoms. There is a third kind of yellow blooming tree that we see on occasion. We have yet to learn its name, calling it Yellow Flower Mystery tree for now.
“Notice the shape of the leaves”, I say, “the quality of the bark, the formation of the branches, so that you can spot it when it’s not blooming. That’s the real trick.”
Olivia calls out Ginkgos when there are none, delighted to trick me into searching for my favorite tree. Penny dutifully identifies every magnolia, chanting magnolia, magnolia, magnolia as we drive down the mid city streets that are lined with them. I love magnolias. Their dark shiny leaves and huge white blooms make me think of dinosaurs, a history of this planet long before humans and cities, before our urban forest. Henry points out palms, and laughs when I point out the tall gangly Italian Cyprus, otherwise known as the Tree Mommy Hates. Lovely, I’m sure, in meandering groves in the Italian countryside, but odd and out of place in strange Southern California landscaping, always making me imagine the set for a community theater production of Alice in Wonderland gone awry. Jack, always game, calls out cupcake, his newest word, sure to elicit laughter and encouragement from his siblings.
I love Los Angeles, and our canopy of trees is remarkable and unexpected if you take the time to notice. I love trees, so I notice them.
It’s not that I care if my kids know or care about trees, although the game does help pass some of the time we inevitably end up spending in the car, and they are on their way to developing an encyclopedic knowledge whether they want to or not.
It is that I’m hoping they will become noticers, people who are interested in the world around them. Noticing is funny that way. Once you start it’s hard to stop. By cultivating a curiosity and an awareness of the world around them, I hope that I am inspiring them to stop, to pay attention, to not become inured to the beauty of the unexpected landscape that surrounds them.
“There are more trees in LA than people,” I tell them, “trees from all over the world. You could tell the story of our city with the history of those trees, when the palms came and why they are dying now, who planted the quick growing Indian Laurels, whose roots tear up sidewalks and sewers, the huge slow growing rubber tree near the corner of Jefferson and La Brea, how long it must have stood watch there to get that big.”
“Cupcake,” Jack replies.