The old oak in the parking lot was there before the school. It was there before the town. In fact it was there before the nearby San Francisco Bay had a Spanish name. We're estimating that tree was five hundred years old. It was growing there in a meadow with no other trees around it and no roads. Explorers and Indians may have sought shade under its branches....
The tree was full of honey bees. You could hear humming as you passed going to and from your car. The bees made their entrances and exits from the big knot hole you can see above the crotch. The big oak had been home to the bees for a very long time. Concrete filled a large cavity in the tree where maintenance men in the 50's had tried to eradicate the bees and shut them out.
This time, however, when the school wished to expand parking, the bees were cited as a potential security threat and the tree was sentenced to death. "What if the bees were to attack and kill child?" The developer's line item read: "Demolish and remove oak." Parents who would protest on behalf of the tree were silenced by very, very simple logic: "If you support keeping the tree, you support a risk your child will be killed by multiple bee stings." The State of California, who lists this particular species of tree as a "protected" requires they be consulted before such a tree can be demolished. At a public hearing, the developer for the school's expansion project reiterated his very clear simple message: "Support keeping the tree and you support a risking your child's life. Permission to "demolish and remove" the tree was granted and the Developer was permitted to proceed.
I arrived on the scene with a big rented trailer just after the tree was cut down and great logs were spread across the parking lot. My old friend Steve--we first met as seven year olds in Connecticut--has proved a star chunk hunter. He has a special advantage: he is a State Building Inspector who watches State construction projects to insure compliance with all the various codes. He had insider knowlege the tragic event was about to happen. He told me where to rent a trailer and when to arrive. He planned it so the lumbermen would still be on hand with equipment to load the trailer with some giant chunks. The ones I couldn't take were later chipped up and hauled to the dump.
While I first stood in the parking lot a few hours after the tree had been cut down, large logs were scattered all over the place. Some logs had great gobs of sticky honey comb where lumbermen had tried to clean their chainsaw blades. It was early evening. Quite suddenly and it seemed from nowhere an enormous swarm of bees gathered over where the tree had been. They hung in the air for several seconds, then departed in a great inverted drip of humming anger. Presumably the queen gathered her attendants was off to find a new castle....
The first bowl blank I cut from the tree was 27” in diameter, the largest I’ve turned to date.
The darker part of the wood shows where it is saturated with honey. The honeycombs must have leaked over a very long period of time. The saturated wood is dead and its dust tasted sweet while I was cutting it on the lathe. My tools got covered with honey residue.
The wood was riddled with bee tunnels which prevented my making a second bowl as I usually do from a single blank.
Dead wood shrinks at a different rate than healthy wood.The bowl is now drying and is tearing itself apart. I put a strap around the lip to keep the cracks from opening too wide for butterflies to repair it later.At this point, I intend to mend no matter what happens.I may have to soak it in water to make it relax because it is fighting hard to destroy itself.