OAKLAND -- It was more than a tree to Pat Cashman.
He passed through the shade of the towering manna gum eucalyptus thousands of times, by his estimation, on runs and bicycle rides around Lake Merritt. When he and his wife, Naoko, decided to marry, they held their wedding beneath its canopy. They could see it from their home across the lake.
Then, on the night of Nov. 21, came word that a large tree near the Lake Chalet restaurant had fallen during unusually high winds that buffeted the Bay Area.
"I was hoping it wasn't our tree," Cashman said. "It wasn't clear at first. In the morning, when it cleared up, we looked out and said, 'Yeah, that was our tree. It's gone.'"
Though smaller limbs and most of the leaves have been removed from the tree, the trunk, root ball (weighing 47 tons) and stumps of several branches remain. On Saturday, Oakland's Public Works Agency held a ceremony to honor the tree that once stood 120 feet tall and served as a landmark to generations of Oakland residents.
"We felt it was really important to honor this beautiful tree that has been here for over 150 years," said Brooke Levin, interim director of Oakland's Public Works Agency. "Oakland was born in 1852, so it's been here most of Oakland's existence."
Monte Coyote, an Oakland city employee who asked to be identified by his Native American name, officiated what he said was not so much a ceremony as it was "an offer and a blessing." Coyote told about 50 onlookers that he was drawn to the fallen tree after seeing it had been targeted by graffiti artists. Coyote said he has visited the tree every day since it crashed to the ground, painting over the graffiti and talking with passers-by.
"This tree has seen beatniks, hippies, disco, punk rock, Occupy," he said. "Now it's bringing people together. It's like a UFO landed here."
Against the backdrop of burning sage and soft tribal drums, Coyote moved around the crowd singing a Native American song. After the event, onlookers were offered cuttings from the tree as mementos.
Levin estimated it will cost $20,000, possibly more, to remove the tree. The city soon will begin accepting bids from contractors.
"As part of that bid, we've asked for a couple things," Levin said. "We want a slice of the tree to be preserved, and we are going to put on it a timeline of the tree's life, and we plan to install it here at the lake. Also, we are asking potential contractors to reuse as much of the tree as possible."
Cashman still has trouble believing that something so strong and enduring has reached the end of its natural life.
"We thought it would outlast us," he said. "Now we realize we had the opportunity to get married under it before it fell."
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.