My Neighbor’s Cedar Tree

A minor disaster; a major revelation

Yi Shun Lai

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My neighbors’ gigantic cedar tree had to be cut down after nearly uprooting itself onto their house during a windstorm last week.

Last week’s Santa Anas, a Southern California phenomenon, were the strongest we’d had since I remember. They got up to 70 miles per hour, and when we awakened the next morning after a fitful sleep, it was to targeted destruction and a lot of trees and branches down.

Outside our primary bedroom window, our beloved eucalyptus had lost its two largest branches. The cedar tree had some branches either snapped off or hanging precariously; the tree itself, some forty, fifty feet tall, was leaning towards my neighbor’s house.

Since then, our lives have been backgrounded by chainsaws and wood chippers as the neighborhood cleans up. Recovers.

But the light in our primary bedroom will never be the same. Our west-facing windows always catch the weak morning light. Before, it would have been filtered by the round leaves of our silver-dollar eucalyptus; after it’d been sieved by the boughs and needles of my neighbor’s cedar. Our little balcony, on which I sometimes sat to read, felt as close to an aerie as I could get without being a bird, because of that same cedar tree.

In the evenings, the quality of light coming through those same windows, distilled through those same trees, not usually found together in nature, was of a kind to make you stop and look no matter what you were doing. Without the buffer of the cedar tree, the remaining leaves and branches of my eucalyptus move differently now — fretful, as opposed to languid and swaying.

Where once there was a bower, there are now the bare lines of my neighbors’ roof; the stiffness of a bare blue California sky. Downstairs, the lanai over our unused hot tub seems half-finished, something out of a Mad Max landscape; before it had seemed a romantic ruin, waiting for us to decide what to do with the space.

We’re not Southern California people. I don’t love the traffic; the smog; the relentless up of the mountains when I walk in them. But I could have never tired of the shadows that came from our trees together, and now, I find myself buffeted by grief.

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Yi Shun Lai

Author: A SUFFRAGISTS’S GUIDE TO THE ANTARCTIC (2024), Pin Ups (2020). Columnist, The Writer. theGooddirt.org; @gooddirt. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!