The Colors of Fall: Our Own Special Tree

colorful leaves

Colorful leaves

New England states are known for stunning displays of fall color.  My husband and I crossed the country by train one year so we could enjoy the spectacular (and fleeting) beauty.

We also had the good sense to plant our own fall color in the strip of land between the street and the sidewalk.  Though there were four beautiful trees growing in the back yard when we bought our house in 1996, we didn’t have a single tree out front.

August, 1996

Planting the tree
August, 1996

We planted two that first year, and have since planted a couple more.   The Magnolia shows off in early spring with huge, snowy-white flowers but the fall belongs to the splendid Chinese Pistache.

The City of San Jose requires a permit before planting a tree in the sidewalk strip, the space between the sidewalk and the street.  They provide a list of “approved” street trees.  Approved trees must have non-invasive roots, non-staining fruit and other good-neighbor qualities.  In the past, neighboring streets sported Liquidambar trees.  They’re pretty but a nuisance when planted curbside.  Invasive roots lift the sidewalks, causing myriad tripping hazards, and the seed pods are hard enough to twist an ankle when stepped on.  I remember getting them caught in the wheels of the boys’ s stroller and later in the undercarriage of scooters.  One by one, homeowners removed the Liquidambar, leaving neighborhoods bereft of trees.

A few years back the trend reversed, and once again families are planting trees.

Planting a tree is an act of hope and optimism.  It also says “I’m here to stay!”  My family moved a lot when I was a child, and I moved even more during college and my early working career.  The same was true for my husband. Planting a tree outside our front window said  “we plan to stay awhile.”

chinese pistache newly planted

August, 1996

chinese pistache spring

Spring, 2011

Now and again my husband grumbles that our tree is not as tall or as full as the one across the street.  I immediately come to our trees’ defense and assure him that it’s just fine.  BK (before kids) we used to measure the tree’s height each year.  We settled into life raising two boys, and measured their growth each year instead.

Winter Views of the Pistache

Growing boys, sleeping tree

Now we have three strapping teenagers (two boys and one tree) and all three are taller than me.  The colors of fall, and our beautiful tree, are an introspective time to reflect.

chinese pistache

November 12, 2013

hummer in pistache

This little hummingbird sang while I raked

It’s Arbor Day: Have you Hugged Your Favorite Tree?

Proud Tree Hugger

If you can’t plant a tree somewhere today, arbor day enthusiasts suggest taking stock of your own.  Are they healthy?  In need of a trim?  Perhaps some fertilizer is in order.

Our suburban lot is about 6,000 square feet.  The house occupies a third of that and what’s left includes the garden, a deck, a patio and a few trees.  Three established trees grew in our backyard when we bought the house, but not a single tree out  front.  I started researching approved street trees before escrow even closed, and together my husband and I settled on a Chinese Pistache.  The Pistache grows in the strip between the sidewalk and the street, perfectly situated for viewing from my home office and the kitchen.

After years of broken sidewalks, car damage and probably lawsuits, the city arborist requires well-behaved “street” trees.  No invasive roots, no sticky sap to damage cars and they’ve banned Liquidambar styraciflua which toss down ankle-turning, stroller-jamming hard, dry fruit.  They are lovely trees in the right setting, but not well suited curbside.  No pip-squeaks either, which is to say, 15 gallon trees (at a minimum) when planted for safe traffic visibility.

We love our tree!  In the first few years, we measured its growth, but eventually it grew too tall.  We had boys by then, so all our attentions shifted down, as we measured their height in inches and eventually feet.

Planting Our Tree
September, 2006

In the fall our tree turns multiple shades of amber, then quietly drops a blanket of leaves, so subtle they hardly need raking.  We hang our singing skeleton from the branch to entertain passers-by around Halloween, and by winter the tree strips to its own skeletal form.

Stunning Fall Color

My youngest son loves climbing that tree and when it was dense with foliage, he once hid up there so he could drop down and surprise his unsuspecting friend.  Last summer, he and a friend rigged a series of buckets and tubes and created an impromptu dunk tank, supported by the trees now-strong limbs.

Enjoying Our Tree in the Winter Months

If that tree could talk, it would have a story to tell.  Have you hugged your favorite tree today?

Tree Hugging Spring Days

Newly Planted, September 2006

Arbor Day, 2012