Down Here In The Flatlands, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:11am


It’s windy here this morning. I can see branches in my backyard whipped about and fluttering.

It’s also a little chilly. Makes me think of the mountains, which is so odd, because I haven’t been to high altitudes since 2013. But if you’ve ever traveled to the Sierras you know what I mean, that thin air through evergreens. No layer between.

But nothing quite so rarefied is happening here. Just a suburban morning with cool weather after three days of 90 degree temperatures. My stars it was hot. We’ve always had our little heatwaves in June or July, but I think this is the first time I can remember one in May.

The heat was even harder than it used to be because few months ago our big backyard Chinese elm fell down. We were standing by the window, having just come back from lunch in Palo Alto, talking – I think – about who was doing what the rest of the day, when the tree groaned, and almost knelt, so slowly did it fall. Roots ripped right out of the ground. 75 feet and 65 years of tree. A gracious creature, defeated by a long hard drought, resultant fungus, and this winter’s rains.

Not to worry about us humans. Because we knew the tree was ill, we’d pruned it carefully to fall away from the house.

Anyway,  it’s hotter on my sofa of an afternoon with the elm shade gone. In the 46 years I’ve spent in Northern California I’ve never had an air conditioner. Didn’t use to be necessary. Puddles used to freeze in the winter. But I digress. It’s cool this morning. A breeze is bouncing the dogwood leaves.

How to say something about the joy of things that grow green, and also warn that we need to take care? Can we enjoy our joys and acknowledge danger? Has to be so. Very few people can live in a flat out run for good, most of us have to sit by the side of the trail and breathe now and then.

My yard is still beautiful; I plan to water far less and wait to to hear from my yard itself what new tree or trees to plant. Maybe a native evergreen, I hear they grow down here in the flatlands too.

Have a good weekend everyone.

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13 Comments

  • Hello Lisa, What a shame about your Chinese elm tree. The wood is commonly used in China for furniture and smaller objects. Take care in that heat; here it is already so hot that my computer is overheating.
    –Jim

    05/07/17
    9:01 am
    Lisa said...

    @Parnassus, Thank you. Our heat doesn’t compare to yours, but I’m so out of practice! I wish we’d been able to use the wood of our tree for something, it was such a good friend and companion all these years.

  • Sorry about your tree. I had a Chinese elm in my first house that also died and had to be cut down, it was too close to the house.
    I’m sort of fixated on Japanese Maples right now – love them, so many shapes and colors.

    05/07/17
    9:02 am
    Lisa said...

    @Kathy, Japanese maples are gorgeous. I think the heat is nudging me towards a cool palette, I’m fixated on olive trees!

  • Whenever I have a run of good fortune, I catch myself thinking, “Oh, this can’t last. Beware.” Enjoy the cooler weather.

    05/07/17
    9:03 am
    Lisa said...

    @Jane, It’s always so hard to know how much joy to take in good fortune, and how much to temper the joy with knowledge of what may follow.

  • Your tree death makes me sad. I like your attitude, though, and look forward to seeing pictures of what you plant.

    05/07/17
    9:03 am
    Lisa said...

    @MaryAnne, Thank you. I’m taking my time with the replanting. Many shrubs will die before I know:(.

  • What a shame about your elm, Lisa. When you’ve lived in a place for a while, the trees around you become like family. Well, not quite but they are a familiar, calming presence to return home to or look out at through your windows.

    I am grudgingly raking up the leaves from the trees at my home right now but darn, I’d be a bit a sad if one of those said trees did fall.

    SSG xxx

    05/07/17
    9:04 am
    Lisa said...

    @Sydney Shop Girl, Oh this tree always dropped leave on my patio and I loved it nonetheless. It was part of the family, I agree.

  • Oh that elm will be missed…it was a focal point in your garden and the shade would have been so lovely…but now you have the opportunity to redesign and rethink the space…a gift really. So many options await…it is rather like a blank canvas!

    05/07/17
    9:08 am
    Lisa said...

    @Bungalow Hostess, That’s exactly how I feel! And I’m waiting for the limits and opportunities of our real climate to guide me. The first stake in the ground, cutting back on watering. Now I wait and see.

  • My condolences on the loss of your Chinese elm. It’s heart- wrenching losing a tree. I’ve lost a cherry tree during an ice storm and had to cut down a huge oak ( growing too close to neighbours’ window) and then last year we lost a beautiful ash (dying from a bug). All of this over 20 years, but I missed the shade and privacy they provided. So now I try to plant fast growing trees, as in the growing season is short.

    05/07/17
    9:09 am
    Lisa said...

    @Coleman Susan, I am doing a LOT of tree research. Hoping to plant a native. We shall see. Sorry you have lost so many.

  • I’m so sorry to hear about the elm. We have lost many large old trees here in Portland this year. Between the ice, record rains and high winds, they just couldn’t hang on. It is hard to select something as permanent as a tree, so I can see why you are taking your time. It will be interesting to hear what you decide on.

    05/07/17
    9:13 am
    Lisa said...

    @Teddi, Thank you. The world needs its trees, I imagine Portland is good about replanting?

  • Loss of a tree is sad, especially when you enjoyed it for so many years. I lost a weeping cherry and my magnolia was severely damaged last winter – almost no spring flowers. The weather everywhere seems to be negatively impacting our trees. I recently planted a Korean Fur and am very happy with this unusual tree. We continue to be quite cool. Hard to tell what the summer temps will be???

    05/07/17
    9:15 am
    Lisa said...

    @Susan, Maybe we need a Friends of Trees project. xox.

  • Trees are hard – we want the shade when it’s hot, but don’t want the loss of light when it’s cool. Want the view, don’t want the storm hazard. And it’s very hard to commit to a specific type and a specific place. How will it affect the prospect from each window? How will it look from the street? What sort of mess will it make each season? How much care will it need while it’s getting established and sinking those roots deep?

    Of course, we could just avoid mowing over one of the maple shoots that spring up every year thanks to the generosity of a neighbor’s tree, and then no digging would be involved…

    05/07/17
    9:16 am
    Lisa said...

    @KC, I kind of like the idea of allowing trees that insist on growing to proceed. That’s how I got my Live Oak. But I admit it grew too big to cut before I noticed!

  • I’ve always taken tree deaths personally and hard. I was just having wild thoughts about nature yesterday: mainly, how little of it I have understood all these years, having lived all my life in a city and seeing it as adornment not thesis. My husband, a city and country dweller, is keenly sensitive to nature’s smallest and largest patterns, rhythms, and waves. I’ve learned much being alongside him and through my own experiments in gardening.

    My toughest lesson is the most obvious, that everything has a life span…including the hardy and long-lived Rose of Sharons we were pleasantly surprised to find bordering our backyard over 20 years ago but that fell prey to a fatal bug infestation a few years back and even the fast-growing and abundantly blooming rose bushes that replaced them now showing signs of distress in an otherwise healthy landscape.

    My other lesson is how very little I control what happens in my yard. I thought I got to position the perennials in my garden until the birds taught me otherwise. Wishing you the cool shade of a new tree, whatever kind that turns out to be!

    05/07/17
    9:25 am
    Lisa said...

    @Mary, Both your lessons as so true and so valuable. I tend to think I know those kinds of things, because they sound true, when I don’t actually KNOW them until they happen.

  • WASNOT THAT HOT FURTHER UP NORTH!I have been bundled in wraps by late afternoon!The wind has made a MESS of my MAPLE.ALL the leaves are falling…………….way TOO SOON!Bobby JAMES rose which is the first to bloom not close to being ready!This AM I am a GREETER at a GARDEN TOUR……………..what to wear as it’s down right COLD at the moment!!!
    IT will warm up………..but YOUR right about MAY.
    Never seen it like this!

    05/07/17
    9:26 am
    Lisa said...

    @LA CONTESSA, You are having late blooming? Ours has been early! Oh well. Let’s hope it’s all just normal year-to-year fluctuations and not signs of increasingly volatile weather patterns, OK?

  • We join you in mourning the loss of your elm; we just lost our elm too. It was one of the few survivors of Dutch Elm disease in our city. It sheltered several families living in our house over nearly 100 years, bringing welcome shade from the sweltering heat in the summer, and allowing the light in during the bleak winter.
    But the garden will be different, not necessarily worse, with the added sunshine. We will have to turn up the air conditioning in the summer. Not yet though, there are a few snow flurries coming down right now; there was a soft frost last night!