Pasadena family mourns loss of oak

Tree not title-holder after all, but holds decades of memories

June 17, 1999|By La Quinta Dixon | La Quinta Dixon,SUN STAFF

The Anderson family of Pasadena thought of the majestic, 86-foot-tall tree in their front yard as a family friend, boasted of its one-time status as the second-biggest black oak in the state and fretted as the tree did poorly over the past few years.

This week, with the interior of the tree reduced to sawdust, the family called in professionals with chain saws to put their old friend out of its misery.

The Andersons called neighbors and the newspapers with the bad news, and when the state Department of Natural Resources got wind of the family's plans, it sent an arborist to see if anything could be done to save a tree of such importance.

Nothing could, Mike Galvin, urban operations manager for the Department of Natural Resources Forest Service, confirmed -- but he went away relieved that Maryland wasn't losing a venerable black oak after all.

The Anderson's tree, he found, had been misidentified in the 1990 Big Tree Champions of Maryland index.

It's a Southern red oak, he said, and with a 13-foot circumference, a far cry from the biggest red oak in the county and the state, a 27-foot-7-inch-around monster in Harwood.

The biggest black oak in the state in 1990 was a tree in Bel Air with a 17-foot circumference. The state updates the Big Tree List every two years.

Little comfort

The new identity gave little comfort to the Andersons, who stood on their lawn on Bayside Beach Road as if in mourning at a funeral.

"I don't want it to go down because there are too many memories," said Laura Anderson, 13. "It used to be one of the best places to run around when playing hide and seek."

Swatting away sawdust and wood chips blowing toward her face, 17-year-old Jennifer Anderson remembered how her foot touched the cherry tree in the yard the higher she pushed the swing in the big tree.

"It's just a tree," she said, "but a tree we love."

Her mother, Barbara Anderson, clutched old family photos: "It's like jabbing me in the heart. I'll need a lot of counseling for it."

The big tree was the backdrop to her children's prom pictures, their play spot and its shade the natural air conditioning for her home.

"Twenty-one years ago we built our own home and made the decision not to install A/C because all these trees are going to provide plenty of shade," she said.

Fatal lightning strike

Galvin thinks the Andersons' tree, which might be 300 years old, was struck a death blow 20 years ago when it was hit by lightning. It bears scars from the bolt. The intense heat of a lightning strike dries out trees.

Galvin found the tree had 50 percent root damage and a hollowed trunk. Its base was infested with carpenter ants.

"There is no treatment for decay," Galvin said.

So, workers for Mr. Tree armed with electric saws took up stations in the Andersons' front yard yesterday for a job that will take two days.

In deference to a family's love, they will sever the best limb last -- the one that held a long rope swing.

"There's been a lot of swinging, reading, playing and a lot of praying on that swing," Barbara Anderson said.

She might be able to move the swing.

After that fateful lightning strike two decades ago, she sprinkled the acorns that fell from the tree throughout the yard.

A 45-foot tall Southern red oak stands at the entrance to her driveway.

Pub Date: 6/17/99

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