An Indelible Mark

photo-9Jacaranda 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.

About mlknowlden

In 2011, I left engineering to write full-time. Between the years 1992 and 2011, I’ve published 14 stories with Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine that have featured the hypochondriac detective Micky Cardex and two stories that did not. The 1998 story “No, Thank You, John” was nominated for a Shamus award. Many of these stories have been included in anthologies and translated in multiple languages. With Neal Shusterman, I’ve also published a science fiction story for the More Amazing Stories anthology (Tor) published in 1998 and co-authored with Neal Shusterman an X-Files Young Adult novel (DARK MATTER) for HarperCollins in 1999 under the name Easton Royce. For Simon & Schuster in July 2012, we published an e-novella UNSTRUNG in Neal's UNWIND world. I have graduate degrees in English and Electrical Engineering.
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5 Responses to An Indelible Mark

  1. Rebecca Lang says:

    What a nice story. It’s funny th ways nature touches your soul.

  2. Kaye Klem says:

    Love both jacarandas and liquid amber trees. Liquid amber trees do have VERY invasive roots, and we had to finally cut down a beautiful twin-trunked liquid amber tree in front of our house because it was heaving up the driveway. The previous owners had planted it in the wrong place. The root doing it was as thick as either of the trunks. And jacarandas are SO gorgeous.

  3. dayya says:

    I remember the one liquid amber planted at a company I used to work for. It really livened up the landscaping in the fall. Nice story. d:)

  4. Rebecca Ifland says:

    Liquid ambers lined Tortugas where I lived. I did call them Sweet Gums to my children; but one in particular didn’t like the name because she wanted Bubble gum from the tree and got a spike ball instead. And she would call it the Bubble gum tree or the Gum Ball tree. So confusing.
    This was a nice memory, Michelle.

    • mlknowlden says:

      Funny I don’t remember any trees that changed color at all as a child. I lived for two years in upstate New York while in my 20s and fell in love with the Fall colors. After that I started seeing the trees in Orange County that changed color, like the liquidambar and the Japanese maple. I do remember those spike balls!
      The LA Arboretum website says that the Saratoga Horticultural Foundation in Palo Alto introduced the liquidambar in the 50s and 60s and the tree began dominating the landscape in the late 70s and 80s where it was found when reaching maturity “the trees develop a propensity to form damaging surface roots and their production of spiny seed-balls increases.” Later studies found that the trees caused 69% of city’s structural damage.
      So I probably shouldn’t be so sentimental about the replacement of the liquidambars with the jacaranda. Sometimes wisdom should triumph.

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