The Dry Garden: Now that the high winds have departed...
After the storm, we have no coroners, no priests for big trees. There will no autopsies, no last rites for the shredded jacaranda and more than 50 damaged trees at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden in Arcadia, the fallen oaks of Fair Oaks Avenue or mangled magnolia trees of Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena. Ceremony, if it can be called that, will involve gas-fired buzz saws and insurance adjusters.
So how do we mark what happened? For that matter, what did happen? And what, ultimately, will we make of the night the trees fell?
After the transformers began exploding about 9 p.m. Wednesday, casting what at first looked like dry lightning, the storm was largely heard but not seen. This was wind that didn’t so much howl as rumble, subside, then return madder, like a drunk not quite finished busting up a bar. One woman I heard on the news kept saying, “It sounded like a train.” It did. A drunk train out for an accident.
To Midwesterners familiar with tornadoes, or Gulf Coasters for whom hurricanes are so common they have a season, downed trees and flying deck chairs are nothing new. We call this a disaster? They have a point. The Facebook account of a friend noted that her brother missed being crushed by two eucalyptuses that fell on her guest house only because he got up to go to the bathroom. That's typical of the near-miss stories circulating.
Which brings us to the bottom line. There were mass casualties of trees. My friend’s brother lived. The eucalyptuses didn’t. We lived, and our urban canopy took the beating for us. My next door neighbor to the south lost three trees. His worker was out at dawn cutting up the trunk of what was a 75-foot-tall liquidambar. Asked if he was all right, he looked up blearily and said, “I’m from Georgia. This doesn’t happen in Georgia.”
Two doors up the street, a massive old incense cedar lay on its side. Under it was a crushed sports utility vehicle. Down in Pasadena, workers setting up bleachers for the Rose Parade haplessly navigated around massive piles of splintered magnolia branches. Along Fair Oaks Avenue, at least half a dozen of its fairest oaks were on their sides.
The towering cedars around my home stood. One need only look at their wind-shaped crowns to see they have good torque. Examining the dozens of arterial branches torn from their limbs and thrown against my house that long night, the suppleness of the wood was striking. Bendy, I thought, then I burst out crying.
Ever since that long, terrifying, sleepless night, nothing seems real, especially the real stuff. A movie company filming a Hallmark commercial down the street found room for its trucks among the debris. A neighbor gathered up a group of us locals and fed us from the craft services truck. Who knew that movie crews eat strawberry shortcake in December?
Back at home, simple decisions, such as buying a new rake because the old one is lost under blown mulch, have been overwhelming. “It’s here somewhere” might be the most pathetic phrase in the English language.
Obvious things, such as the phrase “windfall” coming from fruit trees hit by a storm, seem revelatory.
A hundred or so avocados, anyone?
As if proof that the wind was irrational, the trees in my garden stripped of their leaves only lost the north side of the canopies. Once the mad barber wind was through with the trees, the leaves ended up in all four corners of the garden. Where had the wind come from? Everywhere, testified the leaves.
I later heard that two fronts collided over Los Angeles. But did that really do it? Looking at what succumbed and what survived, it seems likely that we helped bring down the big trees. The incense cedar had been in a lawn and subjected to sprinkler irrigation, weakening its root system. The liquidambar to the south had lost half its roots four months earlier during sewer line work unsupervised by an arborist.
Were all the trees that fell critically weakened by human insult? If so, then we do need an autopsy. We need someone to make clear to us the cost of our frequently incompetent care. Will we replace the trees? If so, will we use better sense? Choose the right species to stand up to the coming vagaries of climate change? Put them in smart places? Water them right, trim them well, respect them before we blame them for crushing our car?
I have no idea. Tomorrow. Right now I want a Xanax and a rake.
-- Emily Green
The Dry Garden, Green's column on sustainable landscaping, usually appears here on Fridays. For an easy way to follow future installments, join our Facebook page for gardening in the West.
Garden triage: Have a question about what to do with trees or other plants damaged by the winds? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll compile a Q&A to be posted next week.
Photos, from top: Sawyer Nelson, 8, looks at the tree that had fallen on his Sierra Madre house. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times. Uprooted trees along Green Street in Pasadena. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times. The view at Green Street and Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times. Francis Blackman surveys the damage at a house in Pasadena. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times.