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News: 01/15/2020

Grandmother Oak was iconic, magnificent

Before the fall at the McCormick Addition to Sugarloaf State Park.

The long life of the Grandmother Oak, a coast live oak considered to be the largest of its kind in Sonoma County, came to an end recently.

Located in the McCormick addition of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, the oak was a destination for many hikers over the years, who were greeted by a tree of impressive proportions.

“Since the McCormick addition has been part of Sugarloaf, the tree was the most popular destination in that section of the park, with many hikers seeking the tree for its beauty and the solitude of its location,” said John Roney, Sugarloaf park manager.

It’s guessed that the Grandmother Oak toppled over in late October or early November in a windstorm.

Bill Myers and Dave Chalk, leaders of Bill & Dave Hikes, said that for over 20 years, they would take their hikers to the tree, often on the way to a lunch spot, taking in stunning views and sweeping vistas.

The tree was located majestically on a ridge atop a steep hill.

While it’s hard to say exactly how old the tree was, it’s possible it was 400-years-old or older.

Myers said he’s often heard from locals that, “Oak trees live for 200 years and then die slowly for 200 years.”

Periodically, Myers said his hikers would notice that a large branch had come down.

“We’d say, ‘Yeah, she’s getting pretty old.’ ”

Breck Parkman, retired California Senior State Parks Archaeologist, said that while the Grandmother Oak will be missed, it represents a new habitat for the many oaks it has “sired,” as well as other life forms who will seek shelter and food in the tree’s decaying remains.

“This grand old tree’s death is an important part of the cycle of life,” said Parkman. “Life will go on without her and because of her.”

The McCormick Addition to Sugarloaf exists thanks to the Perry family, which sold over 1,000 acres of their McCormick Ranch to Sonoma Ag + Open Space in the mid-1990s.

According to Sugarloaf’s Roney, Sandra Learned Perry and her family created an environmental education organization, Acorn Soupe, which took children to the ranch, always making sure to visit the Grandmother Oak.

Sonoma County-based LandPaths, an environmental stewardship non-profit, regularly brought school classes up to the tree and engaged in an activity that involved students encircling the tree while holding hands. It would usually take eight or nine students to close the circle around the massive Grandmother Oak.

The Grandmother Oak even inspired poetry, a testament to its impact and influence on mere mortals.

Tim Bacon, a frequent Bill & Dave hiker penned this:

Grandmother Oak

Once there were people who

worshipped oak trees, saw them as deities.

Set fires to protect them from fir trees

before those shadow casting demons could dwarf them.

Tribes who moved to the rhythms of blossomings

and harvests of solar sired fruits which when

ground up became the bones and sinew of their being.

They knew to whom their lives truly belonged.

We don’t eat acorns, aren’t dependent on them for survival.

Yet we come this way in humble reverence because

we can sense the power that resided here,

feel the strength in the massive trunk that remains,

even as we see the snapped off limbs

moldering in the soil that birthed them,

observe the holes bored into bark by creatures

that thrive on this magnificent flesh

or prey on those who do.

We who suffer our own not so gradual decay

can find inspiration in the green that emerges

from those branches still fired by the sun

discover that even in decline there persists the

opportunity to show our grandeur

to remind ourselves and others

as this tree instructs us today:

it is not what we have lost

but what endures that makes us divine.

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