Current Events: Losing the “Mother Tree”

Photo above or at left: The “Mother Tree” amid periwinkle vinca blooms last spring.

We have a bit of survivor’s guilt about the Nunn Fire because we were very lucky in that our home did not burn, and so the loss of one tree should not be that much. But this laurel (aka: bay, pepperwood) tree was huge, and one of the largest bay trees anywhere, possibly made up of three or four trees that grew together over hundreds of years above a natural spring. It was directly below our cottage and Lynne called it the “mother tree.” When kids came to visit she would take them down to “sit in the lap of the laurel.” It was a destination for returning children.

During the fire, the flames probably entered the base of it through the large hole left by a cut branch in the foreground of the photo below, and eventually 3/4 of the tree came down. I once stuck a measuring tape in that hole and it went in eight feet, but I thought the tape was reaching along a tube left by the former branch, not crossing a small cavern. The tree was down when we returned, so we do not know exactly when during the two weeks we were evacuated that it fell, or how long it burned before it fell.

BEFORE – Above: Lynne reads to Jack while his sister Zoe sits in the branches of the laurel tree. AFTER – Below: Me inside the base of the fallen tree.


With our driveway blocked by the fallen tree, it was an adventure to have to reach our house by crossing an orchard and coming in from the back. But with winter coming we knew we needed the driveway back. Fortunately, we have…

Neighbors with Tools

Six workers, five chainsaws, three chain changes, two vintage Jeeps, 10 wedges, one mallet, and one Case 80 tractor were all that was needed to clear our driveway of the  tree the next Saturday morning. Thanks very much to neighbors Charlie Schwing, the chainsaw master, Jaye Cook, Jeff “Case 80” Miller (who instigated the work party), Jim Schaff and Alice Kubler for all the hard work. (Photos below by myself or Alice.)

Everyone in this photo is standing on the pavement of our driveway, which the tree (or most of it) fell directly across. We are trimming off the smaller branches and haul them out to get at the main limbs.
Charlie discusses next steps with Jimmy (shown) and Jaye (out of the photo to the right).
Jaye uses Charlie’s Jeep to pull tree branches out of the berry bushes, with Alice Kubler in back.
This picture is notable because it shows me working, at right. Thanks to Alice Kubler for documenting this moment.
Charlie waiting for the tractor: He had tried to cut the branch so that it would separate and fall, but it settled and everything became stuck, so he is forced to take the easy way out by letting the tractor pull them apart.

Click here to see the Case 80 come to the rescue.

Jeff and Jimmy load more rounds into the front loader to be taken away.

Here’s a video of the tractor in use.

One last branch to go.
Charlie starts in the with chainsaw and Jaye is ready with the mallet and wedge, if needed.
Charlie shuts down his chainsaw after the final branch is cut back.
The driveway is opened up for use.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s