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"The Stranger’s Plot," Essay, by Ariel Gore

Posted by Ariel Gore on 22 Mar 2016

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Featured in The Nervous Breakdown, March 21, 2016

My California is the smell of eucalyptus trees in ocean air. Even salted essential oil can evoke for me whole swatches of my childhood: My father in his crazy wigs, my grandparents’ conch-shell silences on the Carmel beach, the thick grove where I got lost behind my schoolyard collecting the trees’ bell-shaped silver pods.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that eucalyptus is nonnative to California—“invasive” even though they didn’t ask to come here. They arrived in the late 1840s and early 1850s with prospectors from Australia—those Gold Rush days brought an onslaught of mostly European-American and Chinese immigrants that would triple the state’s population in the space of a few years.

Now my local newspaper prints detailed instructions on how to kill the invasive eucalyptus.

I am also invasive.


My Nana—my great-grandmother—was born in Illinois. Her teenage mother died in childbirth and her widower dad married his dead wife’s sister, making “Aunt Eva” both my Nana’s aunt and her stepmother.

Then my Nana’s dad got himself killed in a bar fight.

That’s when she and Aunt Eva boarded a train bound for Los Angeles.

In the 1910 census, they’re both listed as housekeepers in Santa Monica.

But my Nana would never tell you she grew up as a maid.

She and her stepmom/aunt had come to California to reinvent themselves, after all. And within a few more years they were both married. My Nana moved to Beverly Hills. Aunt Eva took a job as a saleslady and she and her electrician husband rented an apartment off Wilshire.

A hundred years later, that neighborhood is the Mexican part of Koreatown.

My daughter lives there, but she’s barely hanging on to her studio apartment.

Rising rents and there’s hardly any work for creatives in LA anymore.

She’s considering a move to a Midwestern city we’ve all been through but can’t quite pinpoint on a map.  She figures if she goes someplace that other people are leaving, no one will mind too much.


To kill the eucalyptus, you drill holes into the trunk at a downward 45-degree angle with a power drill. You space the holes about three inches apart around the circumference of the trunk. Each hole should be at least two inches deep so it cuts in to the inner tissue of the tree. You can peel off the bark, too.


To read the entire essay, go to The Nervous Breakdown.


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