Editor’s Note: A Tree Falls in Alameda

Editor’s Note: A Tree Falls in Alameda

Michele Ellson

Neighbors discuss a fallen tree at San Antonio and Bay. Photos by Michele Ellson.

My children and I were at the window early Sunday morning, taking stock of the rain and the wind and the aftermath of their attack on the holiday decorations that were just beginning to sprout on neighbors’ homes and lawns. Across the street, a neighbor was getting into her car to head to work, and when she spotted us, she began pointing furiously down the block.

We rushed out in our rain boots and pajamas to discover that a massive tree had succumbed to the rain and wind and had collapsed across the width of our street, its leafy branches narrowly missing an elderly woman’s home. Slowly, our neighborhood was waking up to the phenomenon of this departed tree, and they were beginning to wander over to pay their respects.

I raced back into the house for my camera, prepared to embark on what for readers is one of the most important rituals of journalism: The reporting of the storm story. But before I jumped into the car to assess the state of our storm-saturated Island, my husband and I paused to chat with the neighbor who lost his tree and with another friend, a conversation that ultimately turned into an impromptu play date for the kids.

When I returned from my tour of the Island, the rain had moved on and a crew had arrived to dismantle and remove the tree, observed by a steadier stream of passers-by who had come by to investigate after hearing the news. I pulled out my camera again, determined to document the final hours of this once-majestic linden. And on each trip out my front door, I got more than I bargained for.

One of Alameda’s primary charms is the Island’s small-town feel, a feat for a community of nearly 75,000 that was at an earlier point in its history one of the biggest cities in California. While some may espouse the theory of six degrees of separation between any two people, Alameda’s proliferation of sports leagues, civic organizations and other connection points seem to put most of us two or three degrees apart, tops.

Being someone who spends what could be seen as an unhealthy amount of time seated in front of a laptop and whose days are literally scheduled to the minute as a result, this convergence of news and impromptu social event gave me the opportunity to catch up with friends and neighbors with whom I rarely have the opportunity to share more than a furtive wave as I drag my beleaguered dog down the block at the front of yet another very long workday.

The first set of photos offered the opportunity to chat with a neighbor I’d only seen in passing before, as we walked our dogs down opposite sides of the street. He pointed out the still water at the mouth of our saturated storm drain, and offered a diagnosis for the tree’s demise.

I waved at another neighbor who I may have interviewed for a story years earlier and who stopped with his wife and kids to check out the tree, and got advice from another on the differences between raising boys and girls. Another neighbor – perhaps the only one who heard the crack of the tree trunk as it made its descent – told me about a second linden that had fallen, or been taken down, a few years earlier. Another offered a more detailed analysis of how the tree’s root system had failed, leading to its current fate.

By day’s end the tree had been transformed into a massive pile of mulch, and the crowds that had stopped by to commune with it – and each other – had gone home to prepare for the evening and the coming weekday grind. And while we may mourn its loss, the linden provided us all a parting gift: An excuse to connect, and a shared memory that will knit us all just a little closer together.