Walnut Creek Family Grieves for Fallen Oak

'Gentle Giant' spared their house and cars.

Walnut Creek Tree: Before and After
Tom Simons, Raquel Dillon

After years of drought and last week’s wet weather, many Bay Area homeowners are dealing with fallen trees. But the Simons family of Walnut Creek is taking the death of a towering oak that graced their front yard harder than most.

Tom Simons said the tree toppled with a crash on Sunday afternoon, narrowly missing the garage and his son’s car parked in the driveway.

His daughter, Lafayette writer Stephanie Simons, said the family called it a "gentle giant" because of its height and beauty.

“It’s almost like it grew to the exact height to not cause any damage and then it just surrendered,” she said with a shiver. “It’s beautiful and tragic at the same time.”

The entire neighborhood surrounding their home on Eliska Court was built in the 1950s around stately oaks that were old then and are older now. The sidewalk twists around them and houses nestle under their branches.

Tom Simons said the tree shaded his home of 35 years from the summer sun. In the winter, when neighboring homes had frost on their roofs, his didn’t because of the insulating umbrella effect of the tree’s canopy. So he’s expecting higher utility bills and the home’s value to take a hit.

In the meantime, he can’t get his and his wife’s car out of the garage because the massive trunk is blocking the way.

Atlas Tree Service trimmed away the smaller branches and leaves this week, but they have to bring in a massive crane to lift the trunk without damaging the driveway, Simons said.

Stephanie Simons said her father took good care of the tree, and recently hired arborists to seal a hollow that she and her brother used to play with when they were children. The workers found baseballs and other childhood treasures that neighborhood kids had tossed in.

“The tree caught them and kept them for us,” Stephanie said. “We say the hollow is where the heart would be if it were a person.”

The tree got “T-P’d” many times when she was in high school and she had to rinse out the toilet paper with a garden hose because the tree was so tall.

“There’s a lot of fond memories,” she said.

Now another oak in the backyard seems more menacing as it looms over the skylights, she said.
Tom Simons won’t let on, but his daughter said she found him crying over the tree in the backyard Thursday afternoon.

They hoped to save the wood and donate it to an artist, but the trunk is so big and wet it would take years for the chunks to dry out and be useful.

Simons said the tree experts said there wasn’t much he could have done to help the tree. It leafed out early during the warm weather of February, then succumbed to the wind when it was heavy with rain.

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