It’s Time For Me to Depart San Francisco

I planted my jacaranda a year ago. I dug rock-hard, tawny clay out of the square in the sidewalk, and filled the basin with topsoil. I uncoiled the rootball and eased the slender, barren stick into the ground. I pounded in two sturdy stakes, six feet tall, for guidance and protection. I watered my tiny tree through a year of record drought. Leaf buds bulged, then morphed into tiny leaves. I envisioned, years from now, my jacaranda, posed in front of my salmon pink house, cloaked in luxuriant purple petals, exuberantly sharing its color and fragrance with my neighbors.

Within the first few months, someone sliced ​​the twine lacing the tree to the support stakes. I retied and then replaced the string; I did this twice. After the first lacy leaves unfurled, someone snapped off one of the stakes a few inches above the ground. They left the lumber sprawled on the sidewalk. I pounded the foreshortened stake back into the ground. Weeks later, someone pulled it out. Months passed. The second stake was yanked out of the ground and carted off. Maybe it was time for me to pull up the stakes and move on.

But my little tree persisted. I fed it water and sips of tea from my worm bin. By late summer more than twenty feathery, footlong leaves crowned its trunk. The four clumps of succulents I had planted in the barren square had grown together, flowing onto the sidewalk. The plump leaves and hot pink flowers of the rock purslane (calandrinia) provided a verdant, protective blanket around the jacaranda. It looked like my little tree had survived. It would make it.

The jacaranda replaced a Washington hawthorn that was already past its prime when we moved in. For years, the hawthorn’s orange berry clusters continued to feed flocks of robins and cedar waxwings, and clog the sidewalk with debris, but the tree was clearly declining. At one point the hawthorn had graced the cover of trees of San Francisco. In its last few seasons, leaves would fail to emerge from one of the main branches, twigs would wither, and in the fall I would saw off that dead limb. A single, flourishing, twisting branch persisted for two years, until someone swung from it, cracking the trunk lengthwise.

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