Monday, January 7, 2008

Golden Gate Park Recovery

Over 200 trees have been felled and the city's most famous tree, 'Uncle John's Tree', has been damaged in the Golden Gate Park during the hurricane.

Some 50 trees over 100 years old were humbled, their roots displayed to the world. But in total the park has lost 164 large trees and over 200 if small ones are counted, their spokeswoman, Gloria, said.

A number of majestic trees 'loved for generations' have gone, she said, 'but a number of familiar trees made it through', the worst damage being in the West End by the Pacific Ocean.

Surely the most heart-stopping moment for staff, though, was when they discovered the city's most famous tree, 'Uncle John's Tree', had taken a severe battering and lost several large branches?

This 120-year-old Monterey Cypress is San Francisco's official Christmas tree. Girded with steel and decked with strings of lights, it stands at the Haight Ashbury entrance. And is named after Scotsman John McLaren who was co-creator of the park and superintendent for 53 years, who lived in McLaren Lodge behind.

But Gloria was more up-beat and philosophical than I had expected. 'Trees are finite', she said, which is true and makes me think the tree should by now be named Great Great Great Uncle John's Tree.

She went on to explain that plans have already been made for the demise, sad though it will be, of the tree. For nearby a young cypress has been planted and has been quietly growing for 20 years in readiness of assuming the honoured mantle.

Uncle John's Tree was not the only survivor with a brush with death. The park's gardeners, too, had a fortunate escape. None of them was injured by falling trees and branches and neither was anyone taking shelter inside a shed and restroom that were blown down in the height of the storm.

'We are thankful we have not lost our favourite people or many of our favourite trees,' Gloria said.

And equally thankful that the remaining seven or eight bison of the park's historic herd had not been hurt. Making them sound like a geriatric dance troupe in London's theatre land, Gloria said that their 'old girls' had survived possibly by not being in the West End at the time.

Golden Gate Park is an enormous rectangle of reclaimed sand dunes that sits 'end on' to the Pacific Ocean. With over 1,000 acres, it is larger than Central Park, New York, and according to Wikipedia is the third most visited park in America after Central Park and Lincoln Park, Chicago.

The morning after last week's storm saw loading trucks first of all clearing main roads through the park. Now staff are working on clearing away the large trees. With the grounds strewn with arboreal litter, forestry staff have worked for seven days in succession to clear the park.

Again, Gloria has a positive aspect of the loss of so many trees. Forests can become too dense, she said, and in cutting out the light visitors tend to hasten through rather than linger and take in the beauty and features of the trees.

With sunlight now streaming into so many gaps, she sees it as a golden opportunity - excuse the tempting pun - to plant flowers and open up the park once more. Given that the Golden Gate Park was the site of the 1967 Summer of Love that launched the hippy movement, it can be said that 2008 may well be the year when Flower Power returns.

Click for pics which show: carpeting of the ground with leafy litter; Uncle John's Tree with McLaren Lodge behind; felling of a giant eucalyptus tree and its roots with other eucalptus tree alongside to show its height; other damage in the park

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