Jacaranda trees are blooming in Southern California, a harbinger of summer that carpets sidewalks, lawns and streets with their sticky purple trumpet-shaped flowers. Signs appear on doors reading “Please remove shoes before entering.” The stains left by those sweet smelling flowers cannot be removed.
While palm trees, ficus, and jacarandas are common in my part of California, it’s the story behind a line of liquidambar trees that tugs my heart.
I worked at an aerospace company on a sprawling site in Orange County, California that in the late 1980s hired a number of engineers from northeastern colleges. Not long after, the managers met with them to see how they were adjusting to life on the west coast. Most of the young engineers were enthusiastic about the weather, job opportunities and lifestyle in California, but the one thing they all missed was the brilliant riot of color when the Autumn leaves changed.
In those halcyon days of the 80s when corporations acted more from the heart than the bottom line, the managers planted more than a dozen liquidambars (or Sweet Gum trees) down the long southern boundary of the campus. That fall, when the dark green, star-shaped leaves turned, traffic slowed to gape at the vivid orange, red, and purple canopies.
In the mid 1990s, the aerospace site closed and eventually transformed into a shopping complex. Jacarandas replaced the liquidambars. I drove past the site a few weeks ago when the lavender trumpet flowers covering the trees were at their most brilliant. I never looked to the right, but instead remembered the sweet gum trees and the passing compassion of a corporation. They’d left an indelible mark.