It was probably her oldest friend. The City and The Tree had known each other almost 140 years. The City, Oakland, was only 24 years old when The Tree arrived, a Manna Gum Eucalyptus imported from Australia. At first she had trouble understanding him because of his accent. She could hardly believe The Tree was gone.
Well, not exactly gone. After it was blown over by high winds, conveniently falling away from the nearby restaurant and in front of the historic Camron-Stanford house -- The Tree was always highly considerate -- it sprawled across the grass, stretching an incredible 120 feet. People stood in the branches and imagined what it would have been like to perch there when the tree was standing. Despite a sign warning "Caution Hazardous Please Keep Off," children and even adults couldn't resist the temptation to climb on the giant trunk.
Almost everyone took a picture of the gigantic root ball, now standing 20-feet tall, weighing 94,000 pounds; they posed in front of it or stood in the hole in the ground, dwarfed by the massive tangle of roots. The Tree was named The Lake Merritt Eucalyptus. City employees and residents held a blessing ceremony in its honor.
"It was like a holiday gift," The City thought. "I wonder if The Tree knew how much he was loved."
She recalled some of what they had experienced together. The Tree was likely part of the effort to turn what was then a tidal lagoon into Lake Merritt, the Jewel of Oakland. Back then it was hardly a jewel. It served as the sewer for the city. It was Mayor Samuel Merritt's idea to transform it into a showpiece for the city. He had a dam built and donated 155 acres of dammed tidal waters to the city. Soon after, it was designated as the nation's first wildlife refuge to protect the large numbers of migratory birds.
The Tree was planted in front of the stunning Camron-Stanford House, an Italianate Victorian that Merritt had built to encourage development around the lake and downtown.
"If I recall, The Tree was planted the same year the Camron-Stanford House was built," The City thought.
Initially, of course, she couldn't have known they would have such a long-term friendship. How many trees would live more than 100 years? They grew together. The City stretching out to the east and the north, The Tree stretching upward, majestically overlooking the lake.
She remembered how excited they were when the Necklace of Lights was installed in 1925 -- 33,400 bulbs strung between 126 lampposts around the lake.
"It's enchanting," The Tree said.
The Necklace was turned off in 1941 in accordance with the World War II blackout. It would be more than 40 years before it was back on. It took a 10-year effort, but Oaklanders, being Oaklanders, were determined. In 1985 the restored Necklace of Lights was turned on again.
A lot had happened during that time. There was a General Strike in 1946 to protest efforts to break the unions. Children's Fairyland was built in 1950, serving as an inspiration for Disneyland. The City's population became more racially and ethnically diverse. In the '60s anti-war protesters converged on the Oakland Induction Center and the Black Panther Party organized against police brutality and established the Free Breakfast Program for schoolchildren.
"Never a dull moment," The Tree commented. The City had to agree. But she wasn't complaining. She loved being a vibrant, evolving place. "That's what a City should be," she told her friend.
When she was devastated after her beloved Oakland Raiders left for Los Angeles, The Tree offered sound advice. "You don't own the team," he had counseled. "Don't set yourself up to be a sucker." Since the team returned, she'd lost track of the number of times she wished she'd paid more attention to The Tree.
Similarly, during her sometimes fraught relationship with The Prince (Mayor Jerry Brown), The Tree had advised her not to wear her heart on her sleeve.
"You are a passionate city," The Tree had said. "That's part of your charm and allure. But you have to protect yourself. Most of these things will take care of themselves."
The Tree was correct again. Mayors came and went. Sports teams would threaten to leave. Downtowns would disappear and trendy restaurants would appear. Those events didn't define The City. Her residents were her heart. And even as those populations arrived and departed, The City maintained a certain character, her own identity.
"You've been telling me that for years," The City said to The Tree, just a few months ago. "Maybe I'm finally beginning to appreciate it."
"I think so," The Tree had said.
And now he was gone. Well, almost.
"Goodbye, old friend," The City said. "I'll miss you."