Saturday, November 24, 2007
The Mystery Tree
I first noticed it in December, 1981, right before my 13th birthday.
We lived in the hills. From my bedroom I could see much of north Orange and Los Angeles counties. I remember sipping General Foods Orange Cappuccino coffee as I sat on my dresser (the best viewpoint,) gazing out the window. A tiny orange cone stood on the horizon. Ah ha! I thought, a Christmas Tree!
Further studies with binoculars and my telescope confirmed it. Not an actual tree but a conical cluster of lights shaped like one. With the telescope you could see the star on top.
This beacon became a symbol: the holidays had come! Sure, neighbors put up lights and the stores played carols, but nothing delighted me more than spotting The Tree each year.
One thing drove me crazy- Where was it? Over the years I'd become as familiar with the view as the ancient astronomers had been with the sky. For example, I knew the red and blue specks of light to the north was a K-Mart sign some six miles to the North. The Tree was more elusive. Oddly, it was only visible from or near my home, being eclipsed by distant hills from other viewpoints. I tried aiming my telescope to it at night, leaving it on the tripod to check for details in the morning. But all I saw in the daylight was a horizon. Once I somehow talked my parents into driving to it. After about six or seven miles in the general direction, we caught a glimpse of it from another hilltop. Still tiny and on the horizon. "That thing could be 15 or 30 miles away," my Dad observed. "We can't go that far!" Operation Tree Search was a failure.
We moved a few years later, but I never forgot The Tree. When I was in college, my friend Sandee worked in a city just east of where I speculated the tree might be. Once, before picking her up from work, I patrolled the area, looking for my old friend. No tree. Either it was gone or I was looking in the wrong place. Another failed Operation Tree Search.
I never found out where it was. Using Google Earth, I've concluded it was near or in the San Gabriel Valley. If you're reading this, and you remember a big rooftop tree that went up each year in that neighborhood, please let me know ...