The Death of a Community Asset

| February 5, 2023 | 0 Comments

A magnificent asset to our neighborhood is gone.  Tearful neighbors watched as trucks and other heavy machinery drove onto the street at the end of which a lofty, ancient eucalyptus tree held sway over one of Mission Hills’ canyons.  The tree, perhaps over a hundred years old, had been examined by an arborist hired by the city.  The examination included wrapping the tree in several places with sensors that fed information into a computer placed next to it.  This machine gives a printout of the health of a tree.  Sadly, the arborist showed us the printout, explaining that very little of the tree was healthy. After seeing the arborist’s test results, the Urban Forestry Department of San Diego felt it best to remove it.

            This tree had graced the city’s property next to our lot.  We moved into this home, an ugly pink Depression era duplex, March 1, 1971.  Six months and a day later, we purchased the property.  For the past fifty-two years we have enjoyed watching fledgling hawks take a break from first flight on the tree’s limbs as they garnered the courage spread their sloppy adolescent wings to return to their parents.  In early 1980 we remodeled our house, turning it from a duplex to a single- family home with a balcony beneath the ancient eucalyptus.  Here, on summer nights, we could hear a great horned owl’s mournful hoot.  Then we would feel the rush of air from his wings as he silently flew off in search of his supper.

            The eucalyptus is native to Australia.  There are myriad varieties of them.  Kate Sessions imported many hoping they could be windbreaks and provide lumber here in San Diego.  She planted them throughout Balboa Park as well as throughout the city.  To survive in the Out Back of Australia’s harsh, dry climates, eucalyptus sink their roots deep into the soil in search of nutrients and water.  The trees there are small enough with roots deep enough that severe storms do not disturb them.  To conserve water, they periodically responded to a dry spell by dropping a limb.  How they chose which limb to drop, only they know. 

            In San Diego, the soil is much richer.  Eucalyptus roots did not need to dig deep for sustenance.  Here, their roots spread, and the trees grow to enormous heights and breadths.  Storms tend to topple them as one storm in January uprooted twenty trees in Balboa Park.  The Park was evacuated; one woman was hospitalized as the result of a falling tree. 

            “Our” tree was truly a thing of beauty.  It could be seen from miles away.  Unfortunately, it did not fare as well as it appeared to.  It dropped heavy limbs which caused major damage.  However, the city came to clear the limbs and assess the damage done.  After a fallen limb ripped a hole in our roof breaking the rafters beneath it, the city hired had an arborist come to check the tree.  He came armed with a computer-type machine and fancy equipment with which he wrapped the tree in several places.  It looked as if he was giving the tree an EKG or perhaps performing a CT scan.  Eventually he showed us the printout of his findings.  According to him, a tiny segment of the tree was healthy.  Much of the tree was filled with rot upon which giant mushrooms were feeding beside it.  The rest of the tree, he said, was dead.  His recommendation to the city’s Urban Forestry Department was that the tree be removed as it was moribund and dangerous. It was a matter of time before it fell.

            Today was a sad day.  The city recruited an excellent company of professional arborists and ISA certified tree workers.  They came with many trucks and lots of heavy machinery.  At first, they merely arranged their equipment so that no one would be harmed, and they could control their work.  Then the foreman climbed into a cherry picker, a machine that hoists a tiny cabin with a man and his saws and ropes.  He drives the cherry picker to the first limbs he will remove.  Limb by limb is sawn off.  A crane is raised so the man in the cherry picker can wrap heavy ropes around the branch.  Once it is secured, he cuts it off with his chainsaw.  He moves away, the crane lifts the limb and lowers it to the ground.  As the smaller branches are removed, a tractor (aka skip loader) hauls them away.

            Removing the larger limbs and trunk is brutal.  The limbs are removed until only the trunk remains.  It is enormous.  Several ropes must hold the portion to be cut.  The man with the chainsaw makes several deep cuts around the trunk.  Once the top portion is loosened from the rest of the trunk, the crane lifts it and lowers it to the ground.  Then it is hauled away.  This continues until only a short stump remains.  It is painful to watch.  I hope trees can’t feel what is happening to them when they are cut down.  As they finished removing the last bit of trunk they cut, the crew with blower and the tractor proceeded to clean the street and the property abutting the tree’s removal area.

            Tomorrow, they plan to finish the job.  They will grind the remaining trunk and roots, clear the debris and detritus, and we are left with a huge void in both our view and our hearts. 

The tree that has graced Mission Hills is removed after much explanation of its poor health.


Category: Animals, Events, Gardening, Historical, Local News, Plants

About the Author ()

Barbara Strona is a native Californian who grew up in the Mid-West and Los Angeles. She and her architect husband, Carl, came to San Diego in 1968 and have lived in Mission Hills since early 1971. Barbara received a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College with a major in English, and a minor in Art. She attended UCLA graduate school and received a General Secondary Credential. She taught English in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and at Point Loma High School. She has been a Realtor specializing in residential sales since 1984. Her passions include her job, reading, writing, foreign languages and foreign countries, animals (feathered or furry), theatre, and her family: husband, two adult children and two grandsons.