Numerous Palo Alto residents are mourning the loss of a venerable stone pine that served as the shade, photographic backdrop, and perch for untold numbers of children, adults and birds.
The approximately 63-foot-high tree with a horizontally-growing trunk and its bushy fronds of needles met its demise during the Jan. 4 rain and wind storm. It was the lone casualty among a colony of other stone pines located in the center of a grassy area in Mitchell Park.
The rough bark remained smooth and burnished earlier this week, a visual reminder of the scores of children who had climbed its leaning repose. It was easy to climb; the trunk had always been bent nearly parallel to the ground nearest the roots, and adults also enjoyed sitting on its trunk beneath the shady canopy.
But its decaying roots gave way in the waterlogged soil, creating a 3-foot-deep crater.
The tree has a poor root system from growing in irrigated turf, and the high winds caused the tree to fall, Palo Alto city spokesperson Meghan Horrigan-Taylor said in an email.
As word of the fallen tree spread, residents expressed sadness in Nextdoor posts: An old photograph posted showed a person sitting on the crooked tree's trunk. The tree was a photographer's favorite location for taking pictures of people. Parents watched their children climb higher up its bowing trunk and into its upper branches as they grew older and bolder, they wrote.
"I feel broken-hearted every time I pass it. It was truly a giving tree," said Regina Elmore, a South of Midtown resident who first posted news of the tree's demise along with a photograph on Nextdoor. "RIP most excellent climbing tree. You will be missed."
Flood Triangle resident Janice Savage said she felt a kinship with the tree.
"The stories it could have told us … a valued relative," she wrote.
Elmore recalled that the tree has been in the park for decades.
"I'm pretty sure my first tree climbing experience was on this tree. It had a sideways-growing trunk (supported by a metal brace), which attracted beginning climbers. As small children we could literally walk up the trunk. As we got older, the tree offered tougher challenges, and (we) felt triumphant when we were able to scale the vertical section of the tree. The treetop was a wonderful place for seeking solitude and communing with nature. A piece of one's childhood disappears when we lose landmarks like this," she said.
Residents wondered what would happen to the tree. Horrigan-Taylor said staff is aware that it has fallen, but clean up hasn't begun because the turf is too saturated to get heavy equipment in there to remove it.
The city initially stores wood from all large-diameter trees in a central location. Some of the trunks might be selected and sent for milling for use in specific projects, she said. The majority of the removed is hauled away and ground up to be used in creating compost.
Some residents said they hoped their favorite tree would be salvaged. Maybe its branches could be trimmed back and the trunk would remain so that children could continue to climb it.
Elmore said she hoped the city would create something memorable to continue the tree's legacy for future generations.
"Maybe it could live on as a wood sculpture for the kids to play on," she said.
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