Fallen Giant—the Last Days of Our Monterey Pine

Sad day for our house and neighborhood, watching our huge Monterey pine cut down. With a diameter of over three feet, the old tree was already a giant when we moved into its yard in 1994.

We had it trimmed and topped several times to reduce its weight, but age and drought finally won, along with the attacks of beetles and fungus. This spring the new fronds at the ends of its branches began to brown and drop, beginning its death march.

For several days this week, the loud staccato wails and grinding drones of chainsaws and chippers seemed to come from inside my head like a trip to the dentist. Even in its final state the old tree is hard to bring down, resisting and only giving itself up chunk by chunk.

We always thought the yard belonged to the pine. Everywhere we dig we find a tangle of roots, some thicker than utility pipes, pushing through native slate and skimming the surface before diving again. If the tree ever fell it would take the yard and house with it, which is why we had to remove it once it died. We are its tenants, but for once in history the tenants are evicting the landlord.

Our sky will seem so bare. I find myself apologizing to the tree the way I always apologize when I cut down a Christmas tree, but this giant requires deeper remorse. I won’t take all the blame for the drought, but scientists tell us our cars, furnace, and power plants are much to blame, and I own some of the polluters.

We have plans to replace it with a redwood, natural to our dry hillside and our dripping Bay Area fog, assuming we can find a space in our yard relatively free of resistant pine roots. Although it will take several decades for the redwood sapling to fill the ecological void left by the Monterey pine, it feels like penance. Not enough but a start.