MOTHER EARTH MONDAY|
Fallen Tunnel Tree
Edited by Charmian
By Dave Brower
One day, about two and a half milleniums ago, when things were just right for it, a
small seed began the process of putting together the exact amounts of air, water, soil,
and solar energy to form what would be the Wawona Tree.
Most of the seed was a wing, to carry it far in the wind. Within the seed itself was
a wealth of vital, unique, secret information, packed with great efficiency in very little
The seed would inform the tree and all its parts, specifying the thickness of bark near
the base and the thinness near the top, the number of branches, the density of foliage,
the suppleness in wind, the process of pumping water nearly three hundred feet above
the ground, the insulation against heat and cold, the resistance to fire and disease and
drouth, and placing and depth of roots, with notes about which food they were to
select, the adaptability to varying sites - a long list of things a tree ought to know, each
essential, none superfluous.
And the seed was also told how to produce a cone with seeds in it, each of them
containing life directly descended from the first life on earth, some to germinate quickly
and some slowly, and very few to succeed fully.
By the time of the first Christmas, the tree was a handsome young giant, perhaps
fifteen feet through and two hundred feet tall. Nearly nineteen hundred years later (in
1864) President Lincoln signed the bill including the tree and its grove in the nation's
People journeyed to the grove from all over the world to marvel at the tree. As
more and more people came, it was inevitable that some would wonder what to do
with it, and one visitor advocated cutting a tunnel through it to demonstrate how big it
The tunnel was cut four decades ago, and horse-drawn stages and
internal-combustion-driven vehicles passed through it, as everyone who has read a
geography book knows quite well. Thanks to man, the tree became the most famous
Then somehow cars became longer and wider, with more space inside and less
space outside - so much less that there was often not enough room for the tunnel.
What with its imminent obsolescence, the National Park Service built a new road right
over the downhill roots of the tree so that wide-car drivers could see it and pass it by.
Sometime in the big-snow winter of 1968-69 - the kind that the tree had often
weathered and had withstood even after the tunnel was cut - the big tree fell and
shattered. Its fragments blocked the tunnel road but not the side road over the roots.
So many people wanted to stop to see the fallen tree, however, that even that road
had to be blocked off.
Last summer people by the thousands parked their cars and
walked half a mile to see the tree that fell because the seed it came from did not tell it
how to cope with the automobile.
Editors's note: "This story and a seed shaken from a cone lying among the fragments of the Wawona Tree's fallen remains
was presented to the first thousand people to join Friends of the Earth.
A message to those Friends hunorously pointed out that 'the seed could produce a tree that will live beautifully for three
thousand years or so...if it fails to do so, please return it!' "