Henry Miller Library Mills Fallen Redwood Tree
March 18, 2013
It was a quiet, sunny Big Sur morning, and locals were taking a breather after a five-day stormy stretch. Mike Scutari, assistant director at Henry Miller Memorial Library, was making breakfast when he heard the crack.
He went out to the library’s front lawn and saw the old leaning redwood tree—the one they called “Henry’s Erection” because, as one local puts it, “it looks like a big, you know”—split at the base. Then he watched it explode.
“There’s no other way to describe it than an explosion of sawdust,” he says. “It snapped like a celery stalk.”
The 200-foot tree took down a telephone pole and some live wires, a few smaller trees and part of the library’s fence before groaning to rest across the library’s parking lot, debris strewn into the highway.
Caltrans came to clear Highway 1, and a team of library staff and volunteers spent the day cleaning up the mess. The library was open for business the next day, though the lawn was occupied by the behemoth log and caution tape.
It’s a stroke of divine luck the tree didn’t do more damage. Scutari calls it a “surgical” fall, sparing the library’s main stage and other key structures. Since it fell at 9am that Dec. 2, there were no cars in the parking lot and no visitors at the library, which opens at 11am. He cringes at the thought it could have fallen when the place was packed with people—a wedding, a concert, the Big Sur Food & Wine fete that had packed the place a month earlier.
The tree had been something of a landmark at Henry Miller, thrusting out at a 60-degree angle above the platform where countless couples have been married. Tracy Cheseborough, a Big Sur sawyer, remembers acrobats balancing on the tree during last year’s Big Big Big Sur Fashion Show. He climbed it just last September to set up a disco ball for the Flaming Lips concert.
“It was a leaner,” he says (speaking to the Weekly, incidentally, by cell from 80 feet up an oak tree). “Any leaning tree, especially one that heavy, is a candidate for falling over. That’s what trees do.”
But neither Cheseborough nor the Henry Miller staff could have predicted the tree would fall over when it did. The arborists who inspected the fallen redwood were amazed, Scutari says, to find it was perfect lumber—virtually free of water damage, rot and termites. “Once they started cutting it up, it became pretty evident it was a dream come true for woodworkers and architects,” he says.
Now, library managers are having the tree milled onsite by Warren Doyle, the caretaker at Mill Creek Preserve. With the rings finally exposed, they’re pinning its age at about 500 years.
Library managers, who have been fundraising for a new septic system, also saw a revenue opportunity.
“We’re marketing the redwood,” Scutari says. They’ve cut 38 10-by-6-foot slabs—“the perfect redwood table,” he says—and are aiming for a total of 50 to 60, which they plan to sell for $2,000-$8,000 each, depending on the quality of the wood. They’re considering auctioning off some of the slabs as well, he adds, and will sell some smaller chunks and rounds at lower price points.
The library has just about met its fundraising goal for a septic upgrade (including $44,615 from the Monterey County Gives! campaign). But Scutari says the nonprofit hopes to use the redwood sales to provide a “sustainable operating budget moving forward.”
The library was emancipated from its previous owner, Big Sur Land Trust, last year and is now fully owned and operated by the Henry Miller Memorial Library Foundation.
The website for the slab sales, www.bigsurredwood.com, is in its early stages now. But eventually, Scutari says, it will display the redwood pieces by number with accompanying photos. Some of them are hourglass-shaped. One looks like the state of New Hampshire, another like a bottle. One includes a knot that looks eerily like the eye of a whale. “You can build a personal relationship with your slab,” he says.
Interested buyers can join a waitlist by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The pieces will be kiln-dried in Cambria; Scutari expects them to be ready for sale by early June.