Years ago a friend of mine and I were trimming branches from a huge avocado tree because they were sweeping up against and over my little house in Sierra Madre Canyon . My friend Todd was up on a ladder cutting and I was down below , making sure that the ladder didn’t do anything funny when Todd was up there .
Some guy came up close and stood watching Todd cut . He had a scowl on his face . I figured he could watch ; it’s a free country . He stood there a few feet away and scowled for a few minutes , and then he said , spitting out the words , ” That’s my tree “.
You have to kind of get a picture of the situation here , the lay of the land. My house sat at the bottom of a steep hill . Next to the house , on the downhill side , where Scowler was standing , was a narrow dirt path owned by the city . On the far side of the path , away from my house , was a bit of vacant land that stretched about ten feet to the edge of a ten-foot wide stone-sided wash that the city had built in the 1930s . Upon this ten -foot patch of land grew the avocado tree and a mass of thorny , weedy vines .
On the other side of the stone wash a large green house stood . The guy pointed over there and said , ” That’s my house . ” Now , to get to the path beside my house , where he was now standing , from that house across the wash required hiking a few hundred yards upstream on his side , then crossing a footbridge , and coming back down a few hundred yards on the path . Brookside Road , the city calls the path , as if it were a road , and as if the stone storm drain were a brook .
I explained to Scowler that we were trimming the tree because its branches were hitting my house . I didn’t need to explain to him the legality of doing that . I didn’t want to argue with him about whose tree the avocado was ; but it struck me as a weird suggestion that a tree on my side of the wash would belong to an owner on the far side of the wash . He seemed pretty certain , though , and determined .
There were no other words spoken . That tight-lipped little exchange was the entire conversation , and the dude turned and walked away . Maybe in a huff . Maybe he walked away in a huff . Let’s say , at least , that there was no apparent joy and lightness in his manner .
Todd came down from the ladder . ” What did he want ? ” he said .
” He wanted to help ,” I said , and Todd looked at me funny .
” You should’a let him , ” Todd said .
Later that day I went down to the city building department to see if the land between the path and the wash belonged to me , as I had always assumed , or to the uptight neighbor , as he claimed . There were maps at City Hall that settled the matter .
In the old days , when the lots were mapped , a brook ran wild , changing somewhat year by year as streams do . There was no stone wash . They drew lots , squared off corners , with no regard for the changing meanderings of the then-free brook. As it turned out , his lot includes the little bit of land on my side of the wash , although that bit of land is nearer my house than his . Scowler was right , the avocado tree was indeed his tree . Imagine that !
So , by coincidence , a few weeks later the city sent me a notice to clean up the weeds on that little bit of land , or else . The fire department and the city would inspect and re-inspect and I had to clean it up or else I would be in big trouble . Fines . More fines .
I walked the notice down to City Hall . It was a good day for me , because without Scowler’s intervention I would’ve been out there digging weeds in the summer sun on that patch of no-man’s land , desperately trying to avoid paying stiff fines , cleaning up property that wasn’t even mine .
” This land doesn’t belong to me , ” I told the city clerk as I handed her the warning notice .
” Are you sure ? ” she asked , suspicious .
” I’m sure ,” I said . ” It belongs to the guy across the wash . He has a big green house “. And a nasty disposition , too , but I didn’t say that .
Sometimes you’re the windshield , by hook or by crook , and not the bug .