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In memoriam: Goodbye to old oak

Courtesy of Molly Matthews
The oak tree at Montecito Preschool was cut down last November. Over the years, thousands of children played beneath its branches.

The California live oak tree at Montecito Preschool had to be cut down last November. Molly Matthews, co-founder of the preschool, reflects on the loss.

Our enormous heritage oak must be female. She has stood the test of time as she provided a canopy for thousands of families over time.

I met her in 1960, when the preschool’s co-founder, Jim Matthews, said to me, “Molly, can’t you just see children playing and laughing under these mighty oaks?”

Actually, I thought the site might be too dark for our preschool, but I soon changed my mind. Twenty years later, young students from local schools visited the campus to learn about circumference and diameter as they viewed Old Mama Oak. They measured and reported their findings. Fast forward another 20 years, and one of our staff members referred to the thousands of children’s voices embedded in the leaves and branches of the big oak. Recently, a fellow admirer noted that this mighty oak “was probably here when Washington was president!”

Fifty-six years later, all of my own children stood and bore witness to the final days of demise as she began to lose the clothes that keep her safe, her leaves and branches. My youngest daughter, Erin Mobley, the current director of the preschool, called for professional opinions as to the fate of our magnificent California live oak. My eldest daughter, Megan Matthews, was born here, and my first-born son, London Matthews, was a small baby when we met the oak tree.

My children expressed their concern over the tree’s health, and the decision was made to bring her to her knees. We lost both the tree and Jim Matthews, my former husband, in the same month.

I never thought I would live to see this day. Our stalwart miracle of nature will forever remain in our hearts. Today is a sad day for those of us who walked beneath her mammoth arms day after day for only the last years of her long life. There will be a memorial made to honor her memory. The stewards of the land in which she grew have been several, and I am only the last one.

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