Monday, June 7, 2021



        Up here on the ridge, Top of the World as it is called, we've suffered a loss. It was a mercy killing.

    There's a camaraderie up here, sharing the highest elevation between California Highway 1 and the expanding Pacific ocean. We've all kept an eye on this long time resident, worrying. Death has been stalking the slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

    Drought, exacerbated by climate change, is killing our trees including our rare culture of Monterey Pine.

        Comparing the recent shot above to the 6 year old photo in the header of this post, you can see the deterioration in the regal crown of the hill, a participant in so many of the photos I've shared from up here.        

    She's been ailing, but we've all been trying to will her back to health. These trees have shallow roots, and when Pacific storms gale, they uproot, falling on houses and power lines.
    Life expectancy for the Monterey Pine is 80 to 100 years.

            I asked how old is this tree? The warden of death told me 80.

        The old double trunk Pine stands in the corner of a field, a couple of lots north our home. Someone told the property owner she was a risk, sick and dying and "trouble waiting to happen." So the warden and his crew came back to the ridge. 
        Crows have launched from and rested on these branches for decades. I've see young hawks give flight from them. California Quail have sped around its trunk. Wild turkeys have taken refuge or conducted their warfare in its underbrush. Woodpeckers have been frequent residents. Countless other species of bird have paused there. It is a tower on the ridge.
        She's been an icon of our western vista and one of the elders of the ridge. She and her aviary were here long before us, or the homes that dot the summit, a crown of rock and sandstone.

        Lana and our neighbor Lois, a birder extraordinaire, were talking about how sad it is, how that something that is supposed to be, is gone. I'm ahead of the story.

        What I can do now is show you the end of this long time Cambria dweller. 
        The wardens of it's final day were careful and professional. Their's was to remove a hazard. Ours was to pay respect, to watch to the end.

          Reader alert: what follows is a detailed look at the killing of a tree.

The manpower was augmented.

Excised limbs had no time to rest on mother earth.

They cut and trimmed higher into the old friend who must have sensed her time was running out as she created a prolific crop of cones.

The vivisection was done with precision.
The next three frames catch the fall.

The men match wits with nature, using calculations to undo what stands tall. 
The machine, the final resolution of this life, is beastfully disrespectful.

As we watched we learned more than the double tree was to die.

As limbs rained down the sky grows somber.

The wardens again play the angles like masters.

Branches that took decades to reach the sky, to offer up new generations of offspring in cones, are now merely brush to be moved.

The mercy kill is still incomplete.
There is no shortage skill on display.

Carefully the denuded co-joined trunks were topped, the lines were set and final cuts were made.
The earth shook and cast up rising clouds when at last she fell.

Even in death, the icon of the hill was formidable.

And then there was only this.

        I'm sorry for the birds and, bobcats, coyote, deer, skunk and raccoons who shared this proud old lady in seeking cover, shade or perhaps enjoying its prominent pose. Even in her decline she was lovely.

Look at what we  miss.

        There is a whole in the sky and an emptiness in our hearts. 
        There is no shortage of life to lament these days, so perhaps our sadness at the end of this tree is silly, but I think not.
        She was part our daily life, a presence, since our arrival in California. I worry she is gone before her time. 
        See you down the trail.


  1. January 12 inch rain took my most favorite tree---a Stone Pine which was always my little slice of Rome here in Cambria! To me the loss of any tree hurts!

    Aug 20, 2020, 2:03 PM
    to me

    "Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky." (don't know author? Condolences❤️

    1. Thanks Jude. Sorry about your loss.
      Those of us who live here, live with the trees. They make Cambria special.
      I think that beautiful line you quote is from a poem by Kahlil Gibran.

  2. Tom, thank you so much on leading us through your commentary in paying tribute to the loss of this twin-pine icon, home to many of the Cambria area over the years. She at least deserves honorable mention for her contribution to this earth and to so many of its inhabitants. I still feel in the same fashion with many of the trees in particular home to my woods back in Indiana.
    A story well told, Tom.

    1. J Michael, always good to hear from you. I understand that connection to Indiana woodland. Lana and I planted trees on our Morgan County home and at our places in Indianapolis. We put in more than 500 pines down on Buffalo Hill. A couple of years ago I drove past an Indianapolis home where we planted maple, willow, and Pines. The trees had matured and it looked "park like." Be well. Rock on!