Cars, Concrete, and Jacaranda Trees

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I grew up in New York City where gridlock reigns and where whirring car ignitions, blaring horns and radios, and revving engines sang me to sleep at night and jolted me awake each morning.

As a child I romped through concrete playgrounds and ran through torrents raging from open fire hydrants. I loved a good game of punch ball in the streets where parked cars served as bases. I played stoop ball against the concrete steps of apartment buildings and jumped rope on the sidewalks.

Trees were few and I remember, at an early age, actually believing that real flowers came from florist shops and only on adult special occasions. Dusty, artificial flowers that decorated our apartments seemed as abundant as the cars on the streets and just as natural as the concrete cityscape.

School and socialization changed all that. Biology fascinated me and interacting with people who grew live plants led to my love of flowers and my current lifestyle.

As I grew up, my appreciation for cars and concrete shifted to the utilitarian. Cars became transportation. And the concrete sidewalks, teeming with apartment houses, stores, and skyscrapers necessary to living and working, provided safety from the traffic beyond their curbs.

I live in upstate New York now. Cars abound, their necessity absolute. Not much in the way of concrete, though. A few sidewalks in the one-traffic-light town near my home. A few single-family houses, stores, a library, and a bank grace their presence but there’s no shortage of trees and flowers.

The child I was would have felt strange and unsettled in this environment.

Though there were cars all over the place in New York City, my family didn’t own one. Few poor families did. Our nature trips, when we left our neighborhood at all, consisted of visits to Central Park by subway and bus.

Quite different from my current lifestyle.

Once a year I visit family in Los Angeles. Though I’m now a seasoned traveller, each time I arrive I find myself as unsettled as my city-child would have been in the mountains.

Indeed, my points of reference have changed.

I’m no longer used to concrete cityscapes and unceasing traffic sounds. I live in a town that has fewer than 3,000 permanent residents and my house rests inside six million acres of protected forest. I awaken to silence in the winters and to birdsong during the other three seasons.

And though I manage to visit my hometown without difficulty–it is home, after all– I admit to anxiety each time my plane lands at LAX.

Of course, the cars and concrete in LA link me to a life I left long ago. Yet there are substantial differences. Where New York City is a compact island connected to outer boroughs by bridges and tunnels, Los Angeles sprawls and doesn’t seem to want to end. And though I’ve been here many times, I’ve yet to master the layout of the city.

I get lost a lot.

Yet each June when I arrive, I find myself so willing to set those stresses aside.

Jacaranda trees are in full bloom. Big purple clusters of cone-shaped flowers rest upon soft fern-like branches. They’re all over the place and they fill the air with fragrance and the streets with spectacular beauty.

A heart-warming delight to this flower-lover.

Though second only to my son who always meets me at the airport, the Jacaranda trees are a wonderful, welcoming sight.

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Top photo: Under A Jacaranda
Bottom photo: Jacaranda Tree in full bloom
Photos taken with an IPhone 5 by Joann Pensabene June, 2013