A STARS Star ATTRACTION.
What comes to mind when you think of Clint Eastwood?
Dirty Harry, probably. Maybe a scene from "Play Misty for Me" or "The Outlaw Josie Wales." What about a man who once worked as a logger and who carries a lifelong knee injury from a load of logs that fell on him at a pulp mill? Someone who is an avid golfer, skier, and helicopter pilot with a passion and loyalty for the Monterey Peninsula and its landscape?
Together these images make up the Clint Eastwood who joined AMERICAN FORESTS recently to re-measure a bluegum eucalyptus on his Mission Ranch property in Carmel, California. The tree was this year crowned the national champion for its species, meaning it is the largest known bluegum eucalyptus in the United States.
Native to Tasmania and nearby areas of Australia, the bluegum has a reputation as one of the world's fastest-growing and largest trees. A naturalist on a Captain Cook voyage in the 1770s first collected bluegum seeds in Australia at Adventure Bay. By the 1870s the species had an avid California following.
Mission Ranch has several large bluegums, but the champ's massive trunk, which measures more than 38 feet around, makes it a standout. On that December day the lawn surrounding the tree sported small, hard seeds that looked like shriveled acorns cut in half. Paper-thin brown strips of peeled bark littered the ground.
The evening before the sunset had been spectacular, with high, thin orange clouds that blazed for an hour. The tree reflected golden over the small pond and footbridge beneath it, shining onto the lush lower meadow beyond.
While Eastwood has long recognized the tree's beauty, it was AMERICAN FORESTS' California Big Tree Coordinator, Art Cowley, who first noticed its potential. Cowley spied the tree in 1998 while attending mass at the Mission and used his always-close-at-hand yellow tape measure to check his guess.
When contacted, Eastwood graciously agreed to pose for a picture with his tree and spend part of a morning discussing his connection to the land there. That day he helped take final measurements of his champ for the 2000 Register and collected seeds, which have been sent to AMERICAN FORESTS' Famous & Historic Trees project in Jacksonville, Florida, for possible propagation.
Mission Ranch, the champ tree's home, is adjacent to historic Carmel Mission, which dates from the early 1800s and underwent a massive restoration in the 1900s. Today, regular masses are celebrated there and elementary school classes are held. Back in the 1850s the adjacent ranch was one of California's first dairies, and its creamery supplied the county.
Eastwood bought the property in 1986 to save it from condominium developers. Since then he has worked to restore it as a guest ranch.
"They were going to level it all for 66 condos," Eastwood told us as we looked out over barns, a bunkhouse, a century-old farmhouse, and the creamery-turned-restaurant and bar. All of this--and likely a number of the property's dozens of mature trees--would have been razed. Of course, any developer would relish this site: 22 acres of gently sloping land above a meadow extending perhaps half a mile to where the Carmel River meets the ocean. Point Lobos appears in the distance.
As Cowley prepared to "officially" re-measure the tree, Eastwood remarked how star stature has not guaranteed the eucalyptus an easy ride. A neighbor, dissatisfied with his ocean view, has urged that the tree and its almost-as-large twin on the other side of the bunkhouse be severely trimmed.
When chief gardener and groundskeeper Angel Erickson joined our group, Eastwood suggested with a chuckle that having the tree recognized as a national treasure ought to make it easier to resist that neighbor's requests to hack it back. (Although national champion status does not ensure protection for crowned trees, sometimes designation encourages communities to protect these arboreal treasures.) Eastwood also offered to send AMERICAN FORESTS' upcoming press announcement of the new champions to the local weekly newspaper, The Pinecone.
That release will include two Carmel trees--Eastwood's and a neighboring Monterey pine newly crowned after the previous champ succumbed to pitch canker, which threatens 75 percent of the native pine population (see "Clippings," Autumn 1999). The other champ also was identified by Cowley, who has driven and hiked hundreds of miles to check out trees since taking on the volunteer post five years ago. In that time he has increased California's state list from 125 to 193, visiting most of those trees personally.
For nearly half a century the rolling seaside landscape of Carmel and the Monterey Peninsula, some two hours south of San Francisco, have been a special place for Eastwood, who first visited Mission Ranch in 1951 when he was stationed at nearby Ft. Ord. Just 20 minutes from the base, Mission Ranch offered great music and a place to meet single women.
Eastwood honeymooned in Carmel in 1953 and later bought a home there. But more than that, he put down roots--roots that had never taken hold in the many places he lived in the West as his family worked its way through the Depression and the war years.
Aside from his two-year stint as the town's mayor in the mid-80s, Eastwood's most visible connection with Carmel is the ranch. But in recent years he developed a golf course farther up the Carmel River as well. During construction Eastwood had more than 200 trees moved to save them from destruction and to avoid introduction of non-native species. He points to a 300-year-old oak the course designer wanted removed. Instead, Eastwood brought in an experienced firm to move the huge tree. Now it thrives just off the fairway.
Before departing to catch up on the progress of the ranch's farmhouse renovation, Eastwood recalled his memory of learning about the General Sherman, the nation's largest giant sequoia, in school. He was surprised to hear the mammoth tree still reigns as not only the champion of its species, but as the biggest tree on earth and one just four champions remaining from AMERICAN FORESTS' first Register in 1940. AMERICAN FORESTS presented Eastwood with a seedling from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia, which he hopes one day will grow as grand as his champion eucalyptus.
It's unlikely that the raw, unbridled masculinity that characterizes so much of the film persona of Clint Eastwood will ever be eclipsed by that of Clint Eastwood, lover of trees. But it is clear that behind the actor at home riding the range is a man whose passions include an active outdoor life and a commitment to protecting places that are special to him.
Dan Smith is AMERICAN FORESTS' vice president for communications.