Debate begins over Jack London's 400-year-old tree

September 2, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
In Sonoma County's Valley of the Moon, a debate has begun about what to do with an old Oak tree. It's not just any tree -- it's the one that inspired author Jack London and it still stands outside his house, but for how long?

It's the tree that has yet to fall, that has already made a sound -- the sound of a debate. There's a tough call to be made even for those who love nature.

"The sound is heartbreak," said naturalist like John Lynch. "If this tree was at my house, I would take it down."

However, this tree is an asset and a liability because it threatens a national landmark in a state park. It's at the home of author Jack London. There is no doubt that the aging 400-year-old oak is going to fall. The only questions are: when, how, and on what?

"It's a tough, tough decision. Nobody will be happy, regardless of the decision because nobody wants to see the tree gone and nobody wants to see the tree falling," said Chuck Levine from the Natural History Association.

Levine is president of the Valley Of The Moon Natural History Association, which awaits test results on the tree to be made by the state. We could know the oak's fate by the end of this year.

"If the answer comes back that the trunk is solid and safe, we could keep the tree for some period of time longer," said Levine.

At stake is the house and London's study. Irreplaceable, if lost.

There is no direct evidence that London ever inspired by or wrote about the tree, but circumstance points to it. One of his last writings was a play called, "The acorn planter." He wrote it looking out that window at the tree.

"He used the acorn as a metaphor for peace. He said, 'A man who plants an acorn is more powerful than a 1,000 mighty warriors.' He wrote that here, looking at the tree," said Breck Parkman, a state parks archaeologist.

Parkman is a man who loves the tree and also the story of the man whose writings made it so valuable. London died at 40. The tree is more than 400 years old. Should it be allowed a natural death?

"Nobody wants to see this tree go, but we're going to celebrate what she's seen. She is a bridge to the past," said Parkman.

A bridge with a massive trunck and mighty branches, made famous by a mortal man.


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