Walking down 21st Avenue, nearing the cross street, I could see them in the distance to my right. Towering probably 35 to 40 feet up from the ground, these trees were easily seen from a shallow alley between buildings on 21st.
Lucy had kept the trees that had come with the residential property many years ago. The neighbors were glad of that. No other backyards in the vicinity had tall trees. The rectangular (shoe box) shaped houses and flats are mostly zero clearance between each other, and front on the surrounding streets. Thus, you often have several narrow backyards within in a fairly small area. As such, these 2 trees provided some privacy to several adjacent backyards.
The trees were the constant in the flux of the life of the neighborhood over the years. Standing tall and solid in the misty fog from the ocean. Still there, with all their branches and leaves, in the periodic bright sunshine of summer. Tenants moving in and moving out. Grown children leaving home to start their own adult lives. Recent arrivals of new babies just born. Some buildings being remodeled or even extended. The styles of automobiles and fashions frequently changing. Music changing decade to decade. The children playing in the nearby yards were blissfully ignorant of the world’s problems. A constant, like the sun and the moon.
As many of the houses and 2 unit flats (2 stories above a shared street level garage) in this small part of the Sunset District were built as the Pacific war was ending in 1945, the trees have had decades to grow. 1945. It was a bit funny, when in the summer of 2000, we replaced the very old furnaces in the 2 unit flat. When some of the old metal duct work was replaced in the garage (leading up into the flats), it was found that a coffee can (sans the metal bottom) had been used to connect 2 sections. That was Franklin Roosevelt’s war that put the consumer last (even after a decade of economic “depression”), and caused much scarcity in the domestic economy. We could give credit to the construction workers back then for improvising, or making do, as the need arose.
The trees were largely maintenance free. They seemed to take moisture from the air, which was frequently filled with fog from the Pacific Ocean, a mere 2 miles (3.2 km) distant. At one time, some years back, one tree had a branch that split and was resting and likely damaging a section of fence. The trees’ lower branches were trimmed at that time. One of the neighbors, from his yard, thanked Lucy for keeping the trees and not cutting them down. Privacy is important when living in such close proximity to so many people. As well, the soft green of the tree leaves was no doubt visually pleasing for some of the folks.
We do not have a good picture to share with you of these trees that are still on duty in San Francisco. But, picture them in your mind’s eye. Think of any constants in your neighborhood, in your life. Perhaps these are taken for granted, until they are no longer there, and then they are sorely missed. Sometimes we only appreciate how important, how valuable, some things are when we lack them. A “constant” is not necessarily a thing. It could be the old woman or old man sitting in a rocking chair on their front porch or stoop (on the East Coast). Or, it could be the homebound handicapped child or adult. Consider taking a moment or two out of your busy day and stopping to say hello and chat. A small effort that could make a big difference in their life. Do it now before you no longer see them there, and then are informed that they have passed on.
We share this one image from the Sunset District. These street cars are sardine cans during the morning and evening work commutes. A typical sky – overcast.
Thanks for reading.