A postcard, published circa 1907, showed Santa Rosa's Church of One Tree. (Edward H. Mitchell, via California State Library)

The Church of One Tree, and the tale of California’s clear-cutting

There’s a church in Santa Rosa constructed entirely from the lumber of a single redwood that once stood 275 feet tall and 18 feet in diameter. The redwood used for The Church of One Tree, built in 1874, lived in a densely forested area along the Russian River known as Stumptown for all of the stumps left by the logging boom that helped build San Francisco. It was later renamed Guerneville.

The Church of One Tree relied on the “giving” of a single redwood. (Wayne Hsieh/CC BY-NC 2.0)

In Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” a tree gives and gives to a “boy” until she is reduced to only a stump. It’s been variously interpreted as a paean to sacrificial love or a warped tale of abuse. Yet even detractors acknowledge being moved by the story, wrote Anthony Ford in an essay that could also apply to the clear-cutting of California’s redwoods. That’s because the real power of the story is in its depiction of the passage of time and the attendant longing for what was. “Conceptually,” he wrote, “this is paradise lost.”

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