By Kevin Newhouse
Most stories about Aptos history begin in 1833 with the Rancho Aptos land grant to Rafael Castro. Prior to that, this land was inhabited by a tribe of Native American Indians who never kept a written record of their language, practices, or lifestyle. We know very little about the happenings in Aptos during those days so it can be difficult to write about the history of our town prior to 1833. This story, however, gives us an opportunity to look a little bit further back. In fact, we are looking back about 1,000 years. How’s that for historic!
There is no possible way to know what Aptos was like 1,000 years ago. So many things have shifted and changed. I often wonder if I were to be taken back in time 1,000 years, would anything look familiar?
It seems almost impossible that something alive 1,000 years ago would still be alive today. But that’s exactly the case with the majestic Coastal Redwood Tree. These ancient beauties can be seen inside today’s Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. Most of the trees are second and third growth generation but there is a small population of “old growth” redwoods inside the park. Among this elite group was one of the biggest trees in the park, known as The Advocate Tree.
This beautiful giant was over 1,000 years old, 39 feet in circumference, and one of the largest redwoods in the park at over 250 feet tall. It was named after the conservation group, “Advocates for the Forest of Nisene Marks,” who are responsible for the maintenance and improvements of the park.
The Advocates “discovered” the tree shortly after the land was donated to the State Park system in 1996. The land was previously owned by Marcel Pourroy and was donated by his family a few years after his death. The Advocate Tree is located on the “Old Growth Loop,” which is part of the 25-acre plot known today as “Marcel’s Forest.”
I have visited this impressive tree countless times over the years and have always been amazed by its colossal size and stature. There is really no way to describe it and photos just don’t do it justice. You have to see it with your own two eyes. After a while, I started thinking about more than just the size of the tree. I started thinking about its age. This tree was here over 1,000 years ago!
Seriously… I want you to stop and think about everything that has happened over the past 1,000 years and remember that this tree was right here in Aptos for all of it.
It was alive during the time of the first crusade. It was alive when Genghis Khan ruled Mongolia. It pre-dates the Magna Carta and was growing tall by the time Joan of Ark was burned at the stake. The tree was nearly 500 years old by the time Columbus sailed to America in 1492 and when Leonardo Da Vinci painted his most famous mural, “The Last Supper” in 1498. The Spanish Conquistadors conquered the Americas. Ferdinand Magellan led the first expedition to circle the earth. The American colonies were formed. The Mayflower lands at Plymouth Rock to bring the first settlers to New England. The Salem Witch Trials. The African Slave Trade. The American Revolution. The Civil War. All of these events, and more, occurred in the lifetime of this tree.
And then there is the wrath of Mother Nature! The Advocate Tree endured countless storms, fires, earthquakes, landslides, and everything else that Mother Nature could conjure up. It is amazing to think about everything this tree has lived through. Especially since this forest has heavily logged from 1883 – 1923.
So how did The Advocate Tree survive the logging era? There are a few possible answers to that question.
First, we need to look at technology. Logging in the late 1800s was not like logging today. Taking down a tree of this size was no easy feat. Some trees were simply too big to take with the logging technology of the times. If they couldn’t fell a tree without damaging it, they wouldn’t waste their time cutting it down. It was a business, not a sport, and a shattered tree is no good to anybody.
A second possibility is land ownership issues. The Loma Prieta Lumber Company (LPLC) was the main logging operation in this area, but this part of the forest was not owned by them and therefore may not have been available for them to log. However, if there was enough timber value, I’m certain LPLC would have purchased the land or another logging company would have taken her down. So this theory, in my opinion, is the least likely reason why the Advocate Tree survived.
The third and what I think is the most likely possible reason why the tree survived, is because it had imperfections. In order to cut the felled timber into usable lumber, a tree would need to grow straight up with very few twists or curves and would need to be free of burls or other deformities. Among the imperfections of the Advocate Tree was an 18-ft high goosepen (a hollowed out cavity created by fire) at its base. To me this is a wonderful lesson that being perfect in life is not always an advantage.
It was a Sunday afternoon, on January 15, when I received a text message from my friend Jason. He told me the Advocate Tree had fallen. It is hard to say exactly when it had happened but it couldn’t have been more than 24-48 hours prior as this is a heavily travelled trail and nobody had reported it until then. I immediately went to see it and was overwhelmed by what I saw. My favorite tree, the beautiful giant, was on her side. The root ball stands a good 40 feet in the air and left behind a massive hole in the ground.
I put my hand on her bark and paid my respects to one of the most beautiful works of art Mother Nature has ever created. 1,000 years of history came tumbling down and that’s not something to be taken lightly.
For more information about the Aptos History Museum, upcoming events, or becoming a member of the museum, please visit www.aptoshistory.org and follow us on Facebook and Instagram @aptos_history_museum.