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In memory of a fallen friend

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
January 16, 2003


"Nature is not a pretty, manicured place maintained for human beings. It is a dynamic continuum, often a violent one." — Dave Foreman

One would had to have been in a coma last week to miss the Santa Ana winds that blew through San Diego County. Named after the canyon where the winds are the fiercest, Santa Ana conditions occur mainly between October and February, and are responsible for damage of both life and limb.

A vital element of Southern California's ecology Santa Ana winds are the result of high pressure building over the Great Basin of Nevada and Utah. Warming as they descend toward the California coast, compressional heating provides the primary source of warming, dry Santa Ana winds maximize the conditions for wildfires and extremely bad hair days.

Santa Ana conditions are reached when winds exceed 25 miles an hour. And as we all know, winds at that speed leave little options other than to batten down the proverbial hatches. Sadly trees don't have hatches to secure, so homeowners can only hope their landscaping will be there when the winds die down. Often taken for granted, the raw power of these winter winds are awesome and deserving of respect.

At 5:00 am on the morning of January 7th, 2003 I was up early. Hearing the wind try to rip the patio apart, my concern turned to a slender young Torrey Pine. Worried it would snap in the fierce winds, I went out in to the dark to see how she fared. Although dancing madly in the maelstrom, Torrey (that's the tree's name) was fine. Next my attention went to an unnamed stand of timber bamboo, which was being completely thrashed. Having just woken up it took me a few seconds to realize something was different.

Missing from the familiar skyline was a large Tecate cypress. With a classic double take, it was clear, a cupressus forbessi that had taken up residence twenty years ago, progeny of a tree that had been taken out by lightning shortly before his sprouting, was not where it should be. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I discovered King (that was the tree's name) lying on his side. Not only was King lying on his side, he was laying on the neighbor's house.

The King had definitely left the building.

In the light of day, the upheaval was impressive. The winds had ripped tree and a considerable section of earth from the ground, taking with it the corner foundation for the deck, part of the irrigation system, as well as a neighboring Indian laurel fig. Had that non-native tree not been there to cushion the fall, the California native would have crashed through Sam and Pam's living room. And yes the irony did not escape me.

In a perfect world, king would be left where he fell to continue his life style. Fallen he would provide food and shelter for insects and small mammals, until decomposition returned it to the dirt. Instead, the nice people at Anderson Tree Service converted King into firewood.

Although other plants, including the aforementioned Torrey, will benefit from the demise of the Cypress, I will miss King and the shade he provided. I will also miss the herons that would perch in his branches and the view of the ocean from his upper reach. Yet I can't be sad, because nature happens even in the confines of suburbia. And since nature abhors a vacuum the space vacated by King Cypress, will soon be filled.

Being a native of Southern California I look forward to Santa Ana winds as they temporarily push the smog out to sea. Picture perfect conditions, as long as fires are not threatening structures and livelihoods, blue skies and dry bluster make the region feel like we are living in a convection oven.

Exceptionally strong, the first Santa Ana of 2003, not only took down trees from Santa Barbara to San Ysidro; they were also responsible for two deaths and numerous injuries. Often we take the sheer force of nature for granted as we try to control it to better suit our lives. Yet every now and then we are reminded that the elements that shape our environment cannot be held at bay, and sooner or later we must come to terms with the fact that we are only along for the biological ride.

King cypress is gone, but hardly forgotten for I will always remember the tree that contributed to the quality of life of one Encinitas Household.

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