April 16, 2014



Once again I’m moved to express some thoughts and feelings about an issue that is great in Topanga—trees.

I for one am an ardent lover of trees and all that is natural. Yet, as a Topangan, I am thoroughly aware of the dangerous implications of large, explosive trees towering over wooden structures.

This is not to say that I am in any way prejudiced towards the idea that the nativity of any given tree is the determining factor over what tree does or doesn’t belong in any given location.

That seems to me to be a very narrow and superficial way to settle fears over fires. In fact, what really is native? If I were a little island in the Pacific, having sprouted out of a huge majestic volcano, what would determine what growth was native and belonged there? The latitude or longitude of the location?

Whatever sprouted in the droppings of seagulls and pelicans or other nesting birds? What was blown in the wind and landed there? Whatever washed up on the shore and then took root? Or, what was dropped, or even planted, by an islander who happened by in his canoe and landed and set up camp?

Let’s face it, if we humans were to establish our right to dwell by our nativity, who of us would be here, or where? And with what impact? What good are we doing to the environment? Do we hover threateningly over our house or our neighbors or the road?

Do we explode when heated up? Are we fire-safe inhabitants? Truth is many of the fires that bewilder and terrorize us are caused by us—set by humans.

Clearly this issue goes way beyond the superficial obvious. What is really involved here is much less about trees and much more about us humans, our ­lifestyle, and how we manage our environment and ourselves.

I do believe that we humans, and that includes Topangans, are so utterly removed from the reality of what it means to be earthlings, that we now need to carry on such absurd discussions about pine and eucalyptus trees in Topanga Canyon. This is undoubtedly a symptom of life in suburbia. In fact, I think if we were the mindful and careful stewards we have the potential to be, we probably would not plant or allow nature itself to plant trees in such a way as to endanger our future, however beautiful, oxygen-producing and shady. We would instead consider the many factors that in time become our reality, things such as: Why am I planting this tree? Where should I put this cute little Christmas tree? What will it become? What will it provide? How much shade do I really want? When do I want the shade? Where do I need shade? A windbreak? How good for the soil is it? How much water does it need? Where will the water come from? How flammable is it? Could it someday keep me warm? Could it become timbers? Will it require koalas to keep it trimmed? Can I eat it, or eat from it? And so on.

I for one have not learned as yet to thrive on acorns, though I find oak trees very comfortingly familiar and right.

Yet, daily I think about how much fuel, perhaps from trees, is consumed in order to procure foodstuffs. And that includes more than the trip to Joe’s…er, I mean Moon’s…er, I mean Mr. Mike’s…or all the way to Vons. How much of what we eat actually derives from say, Chile, or New Zealand?

What if I had been Chumash and my great ancestors, having wandered across the Bering straits from frozen Siberia and on down the coast—enamored with the friendly climate once all the T-Rexes and saber toothed tigers had been duped by the mirage of La Brea Tar Pits—settled in.

Then, Montezuma, my Aztec neighbor, ventured by with a sack full of avocados, the huge seeds of which enthusiastically sprouted from the compost heap behind my hut. Would I not have been, five years later, absolutely thrilled? I think my acorn ground teeth would have been quite vacationed!

Then, suppose a ship of buccaneering old salts ventured into the bay there, clamored up the canyon scouting out fresh water and gold, bringing with them maybe a lime or two, and which, if they had later sprouted up, would they not have made a nice neighbor to the avocado trees left by the Aztecs, here where the mountains meet the sea? And, had the galleon been commissioned by the Pope, a few holy pignoles, along with some olives and basil, would have been delightful providence from Il Papa, himself, as they graced our receptive canyon slopes, unsurpassed in divinity only by some most welcome grapes of various varieties.

Or, had the conquistadores been financed by, perhaps the Queen of Spain or England, or the King of France, or a Khan or a Shogun of the far east, would not stakes of bougainvillea and roses, and lavender and delightful little oranges have been an agreeable mark of a claim on a plot of territory? As it is, the yellow mustard that brightens the hills in the springtime does hail from Europe, and probably not by way of clouds. It seems now quite native to me. So now, what really is all the fuss about? It is, I think, this: There is no doubt that the slaughter of one of these magnificent beings, trees, is painful to watch. They are wonderful friends, fantastic workers and prolific providers. The absence of long-standing companions is surely felt. May we carefully consider, therefore, their individual talents and attributes when we adopt them into our realm of oversight. In this way, what we engender will be peace and prosperity for ourselves, for our neighbors and for beautiful trees.

There it is,

—Alice Vickers