The Town Crier and GreenTown Los Altos tallied 40 entries in their Big Trees event by the time the contest closed Friday, with 15 oaks, 20 evergreens and five wild cards, including Mildred Chackerian’s magnificent pepper tree. Measuring at more than 5 meters in girth, the pepper took the prize in our Big Trees event’s “other” category (for which we also heard from a black walnut, a maple and two bay laurels). Chackerian’s tree – a relative spring chicken at perhaps 70 years old – was once the winter home of a long-eared owl and has housed or fed titmice, cedar waxwings, robins, sapsuckers, bushtits, chickadees, bees and squirrels in its time – and provided Chackerian with a wholesome volume of exercise tending to its shedding leaves, berries and twigs.
We’re making final measurements in a close race for broadest backyard tree by category, but the contest’s most thrilling outcome wasn’t girth (despite measurements of 25 feet and greater). People of all ages from across Los Altos shared stories of the trees that inspired them to buy a property or continue a tradition of stewardship. When the Pignati family took over caring for a redwood tree on Sylvian Way, previous owners Bob and Nell Christian had planted it as a sapling circa 1950. Since then, it has sheltered generations of children and served as a “silent witness, whimsical fairy haven, yardstick of time, coveted squirrel and bird fort, and generational beacon,” wrote Elissa Pignati. “We love our 70-year-old redwood tree in all of its watchful, patient glory.”
A 28-foot-round multi-trunk oak became the landscape of an entire kingdom known as Oakasia for the Bose family, and several people wrote in about oak trees grown so large that fences now must wrap around them, bridging yards. Juanita and Bob Owiesny’s fence-straddling live oak features a canopy that now extends the width of their yard. Neighbors on Ranchita Court turned out to measure the tallest tree as a team – Janice Newman’s redwood, planted by her mother, has been tenderly watered since 1961.
Some trees stand so tall that people can find their homes in historical photos and from hikes in nearby hills. Many have stories of starting a sapling in a tiny pot and, decades later, living with a giant nearby. Richard and Susan Moss received a redwood sapling as a housewarming gift in 1966 in a gallon container and now measure it at more than 23 feet around. Durga Kalavagunta’s family redwood “served as a perfect hideout for many a hide-and-go-seek game for our kids and their friends,” and for her, “standing by our bedroom door, watching the shadows and its expanse in the night sky is a truly humbling experience. Grateful for the gift we have right in our backyard.”
You can click on the pictures below to read about each individual tree and the people who care for it. Or browse the album on Facebook, where you can scroll the photos and captions.