Thursday, July 26, 2007

Timber! Missing tree’s company

As I drove over the hill, I saw the tree trimmer at work. One by one, he cut limbs from the tall pine. I didn’t watch the full decapitation. It was hard enough just knowing the iconic tree soon would be reduced to a stump.

It’s only a tree, Kathe, not even in your immediate neighborhood. Get over it.

But …

We knew for years that the stately old Monterey pine was fading. Later, the tree’s skeleton still stood guard over the intersection of Ardath Drive and Madison Street, reaching high into the sunset.

At the “Y” in the road, the tree had been a most visible symbol of Cambria’s extraordinary native stand of Monterey pines, the trees that blanket our hillsides nearly to the sea.

We cherish our trademark pines — especially when sunshine or moonglow glimmers through the branches, or fog weaves its ghostly fingers into the treetops.

We’re so lucky. As we go about our daily living, we get to travel through the forest. We can walk in our forest, show it off to our grandchildren and even get lost in it, emotionally or literally.

Within a few minutes, we can see sights ranging from seaside tidepools to Scott Rock. We drive along Main Street from Highway 1 into town, or along Fern or Strawberry canyons.

We hike up (and I do mean up) to the Cambria Cemetery or to Old Santa Rosa Chapel. We stroll Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and exult that it’s really ours. We spy otters or whales from Leffingwell Landing, then bicycle along the creek roads.

Sometimes we even forget to look at all that beauty. What a pity.

We also fret about the trees when weather is hot and dry, about winds, diseases, fungi, fire and more. Then when wind-driven rains deluge us, we also agonize about what the trees might do us and our homes.

Justifiably concerned, we hope to protect the forest, take care of it, properly manage it.

Some say others have overreacted in how they trimmed up brush and weeds underneath the pines. It’s all a matter of degree, I guess. One person’s mandated weed removal is another’s rape of the environment.

This is Cambria, after all. We each see our town through different binoculars.

After a while, it’s easy to think of our forest as a solitary entity. But each tree is an individual. And this tree was so prominent.

In the 1970s, crews repaved Ardath at Madison using smooth-polished beach rock. In the rain, dew or heavy fog, the rocks got wet. And slippery. Cars would suddenly and helplessly hydroplane, gliding toward oblivion.

Time and time again, the big old pine was Mother Nature’s stand-in for an emergency brake. It frequently halted sliding cars before they could tumble down the hill into what was then the home of Jerry Juhl, head writer for the “Muppet Show” and “Sesame Street.”

On each rainy night, Jerry and wife Susan would mull over their options — wait for the inevitable to happen or alert the tow-truck to stand by.

The sentinel tree at the Y in the road also served as a prominent signpost. For decades, it was in just the right spot to help people find their way. Garage sales on Marine Terrace, events at Camp Ocean Pines, parties, weddings, reunions — all were proudly announced on scrawled signs or formal banners pinned briefly to “the tree.”

Brief directions told drivers which way to go … or, in at least one case, where not to go.

That sign had someone’s name at the top, above an arrow pointing to the right. The arrow was in a circle slashed with a line drawn through it. At the bottom, the sign read, “Not that way, dummy!”

The big old pine was a neighborhood landmark. And now it’s gone.

We’re seeing more and more of these losses. Trees don’t last forever, you know. One by one, other tree guys will take down the dying, the dangerous and the skeletons.

With each removal, we’ll be left with a newly opened patch of view and a vague sense that something important is missing. And we’ll be right.

E-mail Kathe Tanner at

1 comment:

greatk said...

As always, this "Cambria Slice of Life" hits a number of home truths. I well remember a tree in our yard when I was a child that fell victim to Dutch Elm Disease and had to be cut down. The yard was still beautiful and as much a part of home as ever, but somehow never quite the same. So thanks, Kathe, for the warm and evocative requiem for an old friend....