There is a walnut tree in the middle of my driveway. It has been there for a long time. I once had pictures from when my house was built, from the original owners, clearly showing the tree in the exact same location, at least as far back as 1958. In fact, the builders poured the driveway cement and built the house pretty much around the tree. This half-a-decade old tree has been as much part of the landscape of my street as the infamous palm trees that grace the borders of any street in any photo of southern California in its glory.
The best of times. Every morning since we bought our house, I sat in my balcony, right behind the tree branches, and smoked my first cigarette of the day watching life on my street through its leaves. Often catching people unawares, like leaving their dog poop unscooped, my voice boomed from my hiding place, scaring the bejeezus outta them, making them clean up after themselves (as they should). Sometimes I eavesdropped on intimate conversations, secure in the shelter that the large leaves supplied, hearing when I shouldn’t snippets of a breakup, an unsatisfying sexual encounter, or a mother frustrated with a reluctant child. The tree supplied shade to our cars parked right below it, in just the right amount. We never watered it, never tended to it (except for the occasional mandatory fire department imposed trimming), and it flowered and bloomed with the seasons when it should. On cue it shed its leaves, when the seasons changed, marking the passage of time, and funnily, the months where it stood bare were the months when all dog walkers were very diligent with their canine scoopage.
The worst of times. This being a walnut tree, every spring, my front yard would hold its annual squirrel convention of walnut eating contests. They ran up the tree two by two, three by three, and feverishly ate as much of the walnut as they could, peeling and dumping the remains on our cars and our entryway, then peeing and defecating to their little hearts’ content all over the place. They paid attention to nothing: not at us waving our hands furiously, not at newspapers or shoes being thrown at them (some of those years, our cars were brand new, the shoes not so much), not even at our dog barking and chasing them (granted he’s a tiny Chihuahua, but still, they ignored him royally). These herbivorous rodents were on a single-minded mission. It’s almost like they knew exactly when the walnut was just becoming edible, and knew just how little time they had before it was ripe enough for humans to eat. By the time the walnuts were edible, there would be none left.
We tried everything. We hung CDs from the tree (which apparently only works on birds) and we had long poles at the balcony to poke them off with (they simply squatted out of reach and resumed eating with a huff). We thought about shooting them all, (if you had to stumble on the piles of walnut shells and feces they left behind every time you went outside or paid the hefty repainting fee for our cars, you would side with us on this one) but we quickly realized we’re not gun people. We tried all sorts of chemicals to take the goo and the sap from the cars but the damage could not be undone. Nothing worked. In the end we realized that the only time the squirrels left was when all the walnuts were gone. So at the first sighting of a hungry squirrel, my husband would start to furiously harvest the walnuts, trying to beat the race with his human tools… he cutting down the fruits, me sweeping the floors, our daughter somersaulting between us.
This was a tedium that we engaged in yearly. Some people cleaned their pools en famille, some their gutters, some polished their bbq grill, getting ready for the summer fun… we got rid of the walnuts before the avalanche started.
Until this year.
It was April when my husband mentioned that he thought it odd that the familiar squawking of squirrels fighting over the same walnut had not yet happened. He furthermore pointed out that the tree was still buck-nekkid. I told him walnuts are fashionably late and then one day out of the blue, the whole tree would be covered in buds, kinda creeps up on you like that. And who in their right mind would miss or look forward to the (literally) crappy shell-covered ground?
By May we noticed that the few branches that blossomed had already dried.
Today, I had to admit the tree is gone. It still stands there, all gangly branches, but it is hollow, just a corpse, really. No more leaves to shelter me from sight. No more walnuts. No more fighting squirrels.
My 53-plus-year old walnut tree is dead.
I know I probably shouldn’t, but I can’t help feeling a little sad.
Of all the wonders of nature, a tree in summer is perhaps the most remarkable; with the possible exception of a moose singing "Embraceable You" in spats.—Woody Allen