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JOSEPH N. BELL

His Friend, the Tree, Marks the Seasons

December 08, 1988|JOSEPH N. BELL

I'm sitting under a tree in my back yard, inspecting and admiring it. My ankles are deep in leaves, and when I move my feet, the leaves rustle and crack.

This is a large tree, the largest in our whole neighborhood. I don't know what kind of tree it is except that it is deciduous. That's one of the few things I remember from my high school science classes (which was the last time I took science). I must not have been paying attention when we discussed the make of trees. But I can describe it for you. It has a thick, sturdy trunk and thick, sturdy branches, diminishing in thickness but not sturdiness as the tree rises.

It is tall--towering above our house and the telephone and power lines--and magnificently shaped, reminding me rather vaguely of the buxom reclining lady whose picture adorns so many bars in the western United States. Its boughs are so thick that when it is fully leafed, it shades our whole back yard, and even on the hottest summer day it is cool to sit beneath it and read.

We have multiple tree trimmers who roam our streets in their pickup trucks and knock constantly at our front door, wanting to deflower our tree. When I resist, they tell me that dire things will happen to its health if it is not cut back and thus renewed. I don't believe them.

How can I when it produces these magnificent golden leaves, tiny and crescent shaped (so I know it isn't an oak; I remember oak leaves from the Midwest) that rustle under my feet? They are so splendid that they even inspired an 11-year-old in my household--who is not noted for picking up on nature since most of his thought processes tend to turn inward at this stage of his life--to say, in some wonderment, "Hey, have you noticed the tree in our back yard?"

We've noticed. It speaks eloquently to me in many voices, but the loudest, I guess, is to destroy the canard that Orange County experiences no seasons. It pleases people who by lassitude or rotten luck are condemned to live in snow and ice and slush for 6 months out of the year to put down Southern California on those grounds.

Well, I've served my time in the ice and snow, and I would like to invite the people who believe that we have no seasons to come and sit under my tree. They won't find a more beautiful specimen in New Hampshire or Minnesota. It is fall in my back yard, and if fall comes a little later there than most places, what does it matter? Where is it written that we have to live by the same timetable as the snow-and-ice people? Enough that our seasons change. And they do.

I love the bite of the night air we feel in our winter. Admittedly, the native Californians in my family frown and shiver and say they wish it would warm up. They haven't served their time in rougher climes. And people who come out to visit from cold climates also shiver and shake because they are accustomed to living in overheated houses. But I don't think they'll go home and continue to spread the word that we have no seasons out here.

It's just that our seasons are modest--as if God shook a stern finger at most parts of the world and said you have got to understand that life is difficult and you have to learn to cope, then mellowed out when he turned to Southern California and gave us the seasons without the excesses.

I'm feeling mellow sitting under my tree. I know that in a few weeks all the leaves will be down and that we can pile them and dive in them and kick them and that we will then have maybe a couple of months of winter--of crisp nights and pleasant days. And that spring will show up around February, and my tree will begin to bud. And that there will be a long, glorious summer, punctuated only by the lowering clouds and fogs of June which surely must have been God's way of saying don't get too complacent .

He doesn't have to worry about that with me. But I think it might be healthy for every Southern Californian to spend a year in Cleveland or on the prairies of South Dakota. Just for perspective. It would help them enjoy my tree, the chill air and skittering leaves of amber.

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