A tree falls... in Menlo Park
200-year-old oak was beloved by Ken Kesey, Grateful Dead
By Nicole Neroulias, STAFF WRITER
MENLO PARK — If an old tree falls on a quiet country lane, will anyone still care a week later?
In the case of a Perry Avenue oak whose branches once sheltered early Grateful Dead concerts and psychedelic literary parties, the answer is clear: dozens of current and former residents have mourned the enormous pile of trunk and branches since its Jan. 11 collapse.
"It's a piece of the 1960s," said Tim Goode, who grew up around the corner and is now raising his own family. "Perry Lane was the birthplace of the
West Coast LSD movement. The tree was the focal point of these parties. When people were hallucinating, they would climb it."
For more than 150 years, the tree grew in the middle of the narrow street in unincorporated west Menlo Park. Neighbors reported that it simply fell over just after noon, in the sunshine; they suspect it was weakened by recent downpours and disease, combined with a shallow root structure.
No one was hurt in the crash, although a nanny and young boy narrowly escaped with
a bad fright. Power and telephone service were knocked out for a few hours. Workers erected a new telephone line the next day to replace the one fractured by the fall.
The valley oak was immortalized in Tom Wolfe's 1968 book "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test," which described Perry Avenue resident and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" author Ken Kesey holding court on a tree-top mattress with bowls of LSD-laced chili.
Grateful Dead fans hung flowers from the tree when Jerry Garcia died in 1995, Goode recalled.
Since the tree's collapse, some neighbors have collected branches as souvenirs and have started making plans to apply to the county for a replacement.
But the Chen family, which has lived next door to the tree for 15 years, has reservations.
"Now we think other trees are dangerous," said Monique Chen, noting several similarly wizened trunks in the neighborhood, including another oak leaning precariously against the telephone pole.
"A new one cannot take the place of the old tree," added her husband, Li Chen.
"An old tree is art."
The remains of the old oak still line the street, complete with an intact honeybee hive buzzing around a thick branch.
Suzanne Hogan, a beekeeper who grew up across the street from the tree, stopped by Wednesday afternoon to survey the damage before reporting her findings to the local beekeeping association.
"You'd have to saw the log off and move it," she said, with a sigh. "That hive has been there for at least 20 years; there's no telling how deep it goes.
writer Nicole Neroulias covers Redwood City, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton. She can be reached at (650) 306-2427 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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