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News: 08/15/2013

Ancient oak celebrated

Annie Swoveland of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria offers a blessing during a ceremony on Aug.11 in honor of the the ancient oak slated for removal at Jack London State Park. Photo by Alec Peters.

The majestic oak tree that sits just outside Jack and Charmian London’s cottage in Jack London State Historic Park is ailing and must eventually come down, according to park officials. But not before there is a proper send-off for the coast live oak, estimated to be 350-400 years old.

On Aug. 11, a small group of park volunteers and staff gathered to witness a Native American blessing of the tree. Annie Swoveland of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria was on hand to offer prayers and a blessing for the tree, which once rained down acorns gathered by the Coast Miwoks who lived in the area.

Swoveland walked around the massive 50-foot tall tree with a handful of burning white sage, chanting a blessing in Coastal Miwok. Also on hand was Breck Parkman, senior state archeologist for California State Parks, who described for those on hand how the tree sat outside Jack London’s writing room, no doubt providing inspiration for the prolific writer.

“We celebrate her life and let her go with dignity,” said Parkman about the tree.

The tree is scheduled to be taken down in November. Last December, a branch with a diameter of 30 inches fell during a winter storm. Three arborists were brought in for consultation, and it was discovered the tree had two types of pathogenic fungi, both of which cause severe strength reduction in the wood and dieback of the green canopy. With the structural integrity of the tree compromised, it was feared that limbs could fall on the cottage, which is a designated historic landmark. The public’s safety also became of concern.

Other events are being prepared this fall to honor the tree. On Sept. 12, as part of the Jack London Lecture Series at the House of Happy Walls, Parkman and local historian Arthur Dawson will speak on, “What the Old Tree Has Seen During its Long Life on Sonoma Mountain.” Cost is $10 (not including the parking fee) and the lecture takes place from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

On Oct. 6, at a time to be determined, a public celebration is planned, which will include children gathering acorns from the tree for transplant, poetry and dance honoring the tree, and more.

“We share and understand the public’s sadness about letting the tree go,” said Tjiska Van Wyk, executive director of Jack London Park Partners, the park’s operator. “None of us wants to lose this tree, but we now know from many experts that we are witnessing the natural decline of the tree.”

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