The driveway resolved in a cul de sac directly in front of the mansion’s front steps. In the middle of that island was a large, mature tree with a globular canopy. There were nuts all over the ground beneath it. I recognized the species from its leaves—a California Baytree (I like to put the thick, thumb-shaped leaves in my gumbo). I started to gather them. Matthew joined me. The golden nuts, about the size of acorns, looked like giant dirty peanuts. And then we both noticed at the same time tiny seedlings about two inches tall, sticking straight up out of the soil. I didn’t know at first what they were, whether they were from the bay tree or from the redwoods or cedars around the house. I also wasn’t sure if I would get a citation for digging one up. Nevertheless, I threw caution to the wind and started spearing a little circle around one of the seedlings with my ignition key, like a golfer fixing a divot on the putting green. It was at that point that a ranger appeared from out of nowhere.
“Hoh!” I gave a shout and popped up like a jack-in-the-box.
He looked down at what I was up to. He knew exactly what I was doing.
“Those are deodar cedars,” he said, hunkering down on his haunches next to me, gingerly caressing the little seedling with his fingers. He stood up and pointed. “The parent tree is right over there.” He was a short, middle-aged man, dark haired, with a clerk’s complexion but a scientist’s expression. He wasn’t wearing his circular-brimmed hat either. His eyes smiled.