by Meghan Malas
On January 8, one of California’s oldest icons fell to a winter storm that swept through Calaveras Big Tree State Park. The “Pioneer Cabin Tree,” which famously possessed a hollowed portion in its base large enough to drive through, was discovered dead by a state park employee. The 303 foot giant has been a relic of American tourism since the early twentieth century, and some are speculating how humans could have contributed to its ultimate demise. The hole was drilled in the late 1880s, and at the time, possessed a fire scar in its base that made it easier for the pioneers to drill through. Though hollowing the trunk of a tree can prove fatal to some trees, this famous tree remained alive until it fell.
According to the Calaveras Big Tree Association, the tree though alive and astounding, was barely clinging to life before the storm. “The storm was just too much for it,” a park volunteer told reporters from LiveScience. The New York Times reported that the drilling may have affected the tree’s ability to repair its bark from the common wild fires that happen in the Sierra Mountains, causing it to become weaker and weaker. Joan Allday, a sequoia expert and volunteer, stated that the roots of the tree only extended a couple of feet into the ground, a short depth for a tree that is over 300 feet tall and has a base with a diameter of 33 feet. This also made the tree susceptible to falling.
These factors, on top of the recent flooding and extreme weather in the Sierra National Forest, have caused many to lose a source of majesty and amazement of their lives. As someone who saw the Pioneer Cabin Tree is 2010 when I was ten years old, I am greatly saddened by this loss. The tree, similar to other sequoias, seems to be larger than life, a product of nature that is unnaturally immense. No photo can truly match the experience of standing directly under any tree of that size, let alone one with a hole through most of its base. Many have shared their personal experiences with the sequoia on social media to honor their memory of the beautiful, intriguing titan of nature. If anything is to be learned from this tragedy, it is a reminder that it is our best interest as humanity to protect and care for our natural world as much as possible, so we can continue to enjoy and appreciate the wonders of nature.