Van Nuys, simplified: Nature and utility at war. Beauty is forever encroaching upon blight here.
Inscrutable dogs park their disembodied heads atop concrete block walls and stare at us as we walk past.
Funghi popcorns from tree bark to announce an early spring.
…and people leave their bees nests in a box by the sidewalk.
The bees don’t stay in the box, believe it or not. They move five feet to the utility pole, and begin a new hive. They wiggle furiously into the seams. Unless I’m mistaken, these are honey bees, a diminishing natural resource. Are they queen-less now? Will they survive to re-pollinate the neighborhood, or collapse?
In Van Nuys we say ‘meh’ to nature, and nature ignores our indifference in return.
Not quite, but almost. At the current pace of redevelopment there won’t be a single weedy lot left, not one orphaned tree marooned between apartment buildings, bereft and wishing for the company of crows, the itchy scrape of feral cats.
Sprawl has flipped on its side and moves on a vertical axis now. Down two stories for the parking, then up four for the apartments. Four being the height limit for non-treated wood frame construction in LA. This right here used to be the infamous Voyager Motel, which perished in a “fire” two years ago and is being replaced with a 160-unit building. Either it is going to be steel frame or the right people got greased, because the renderings indicate a structure six stories tall.
Fire makes for a good action movie, loud and beautifully terrifying. People struggling against fire are always heroic. The world as we know it is changed in a matter of hours. Three months after the Wildwood Canyon fire, Trixie and I scampered up the charred hillside…as though crossing a WW I battlefield or post nuclear Japan. You could still smell the ash everywhere.
And yet, already, green shoots sprout cheerful from the cinders, unperturbed by the ruckus, seemingly grateful for Nature’s chastisement: Thank you, ma’am, may I have another?
You want to see nature’s real horror movie? Consider the Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer, now eating the Sweetgum trees in my neighborhood.
This guy. This monster, this Godzilla of the microcosmos, no bigger than a BB pellet, tunnels its way into the trunks of trees, sowing spores. Unlike termites, it doesn’t actually eat the wood, it sows eggs which create larvae, the larvae become a fungus. The fungus devours the tree from the inside. The tree isn’t food. The tree is a host, a womb for the evil grubs to squat in while they make more evil grubs, which apparently have no purpose on this earth but to sow more larvae. Once inside the trunk, they are immune to pesticides. Apparently there is no stopping them. Parasite rex!
Half the sweetgums in our neighborhood we lost this year. Half! A magnificent colonnade rotting from within, branches dropping on cars, tipping like dominos. They won’t be replaced in three months. It’ll take 30 years.
One wonders: does he believe in the Chupacabra? What keeps him awake at night, besides debts and la Migra?
And the owners of the big homes surrounded by such high walls of foliage they require a small army of laborers to tame and haul away the leaves on their backs, lest the house be devoured by its own landscaping, what keeps them up at night?
Could it be the same thing? If the Trumpacabra has his way, who will pick the socks off the floor, and scrape the poop residue off the porcelain and make the leaves go away? And do it on the cheap? And never talk back…
Vines poke their tendrils through the soffit vents and under the doorways in the Valley. Spiders and dust slip the gap in the screen. Shade trees drop leaves like drunkards, covering the patio the day after you clean it. Rats chew their way into the walls, bed down in the insulation and gnaw on the ceiling rafters. Ants march across countertops to find the drop of maple syrup you spilled at breakfast. While you watch Game of Thrones nature is forever reaching into your house, reasserting claims.
You hear cat stories from people, how they disappear for a week and then walk back in the door as though nothing happened. That’s never happened to us.
Our deal with Memphis was he was free to wander the neighborhood as long as he reported in by dark. He rusticated under bushes. He slithered over fences and onto neighbors patios. He lolled in the middle of the street, swishing his tail, waiting for cars to come around the corner. He galumphed up and down the block greeting tradesmen and head-butting teenage slackers. The normal rules of cat tragedy were forever in abeyance. A hundred and nine lives he enjoyed. On our return from the evening walk we would hear the tinkle of his collar as he fell into step behind us. Sometimes he took sport in making Mrs. U chase him down, gather him into her arms, and carry him back to the house over her shoulder while he kneaded his claws into her shoulder.
On the second morning after Memphis didn’t report, I woke to Trixie pacing the roof. She stood at parade rest over my bedroom window, alert, staring toward the end of the block, as though sniffing his return.
It was not to be. The urban forest had extracted its claim on our house.
I moved my grapefruit tree yesterday. Dug it out by the roots and dragged it across the yard. To create a space, I first needed to chop out the root ball of the elm tree I felled a few months ago. With an axe and a pick. It took three days.
What do you mean, why? Doesn’t everyone do it that way?
When I walked into the kitchen for my victory beer, I felt a tickle on my arm. This little green guy was riding me into the house. I had destroyed his world, and now he was clinging to me like a branch in white water rapids. We bonded over his new circumstances.
I say his, but I have no idea what the gender is here. Female mantises are known to bite the heads off males at the apex of copulation. The death throes of the male provide a more vigorous delivery of sperm. Also, nutrition.
Meanwhile he’s been hanging out in the kitchen, making himself useful chewing through ceiling cobwebs. I say he’s a harbinger of good tidings.
Last week, walking the dogs, I heard cries of distress from under a bush and found a 3-week-old kitten buried in bougainvillea leaves, eyes closed with goop.
I took him home, put him on the couch and Trixie immediately licked him back to life, stimulating poop. Then Trixie gobbled the poo.
The kitty loves the interspecies tongue action and mewls for more. We’re all really comfortable with these new arrangements, this blurring of the natural order.
Not tree-d, but windowed. Just out of view below, two feral cats waited for his grip to loosen. He made it safely back to the tree by jumping past them when their attention flagged. Now he’s greedily eating all my oranges and feeling invincible. Maybe if I didn’t live with a crazy cat lady, the ferals would be a little hungrier and we’d have a few more oranges on our tree.