Well-manicured Claremont is something of a mess after Santa Ana winds toppled trees, dropped branches and limbs, and threw dead leaves around like confetti. As a resident, I’ve never seen anything like it. Claremont is like a snow globe somebody shook.
The city’s website initially declared that cleanup would take “days,” which was soon updated to “weeks.” On Monday, some 100 workers were dealing exclusively with tree removal, a number that was expected to grow Tuesday.
Chainsaws and wood chippers are now part of the background noise of the city. Enormous green waste bins the size of RVs are being filled with foliage and hauled away.
The winds had started late Friday. I spent a restless night in my Village rental, waking up repeatedly from the dull roar. It felt like trying to sleep in a wind tunnel.
That’s sort of what Claremont became, as winds whipped down from the north at up to 70 mph.
“It had to have been gale-force winds. There was tremendous force exerted,” Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis and history at Pomona College, told me Monday. “The damage has been intense. I’m in awe.”
If an expert is in awe, imagine how we lay people feel.
What astonished me was how some of the damaged trees didn’t snap off in the middle — although that happened too. Many very old, very tall trees were completely uprooted by the wind and lay on their sides, bases exposed, a hole left in the ground. It was as if they had been yanked from the earth like weeds.
Amazingly, no one was injured or killed, even with some 20 trees falling against houses or garages. Other trees fell toward the street.
One fell in my block.
When I ventured out Saturday, a large conifer was horizontal, roots dangling in the air on my side of the street, its top past the curb on the other side of the street. If the street were a river, we could have used the log as a footbridge to cross to the other shore.
Large limbs from two other trees also fell into the street. Police tape went up. (Officer, there’s one dead, two wounded.) Entry to my street was impossible from the west. A friend who visited later had to drive the long way around to enter from the east.
Not surprisingly, my Saturday newspapers didn’t arrive. Under the circumstances, I let it go.
My power was out until afternoon. Some friends didn’t get their juice back until Sunday.
I went for a walk. My neighborhood near the Claremont Colleges is leafy, but usually you don’t see so much of the leafiness on the asphalt.
I stepped around what I call tree schmutz: leaves, twigs, small branches, seed pods, bark. It was like the remains of a light, unexpected snowfall, but green.
Along College Avenue, where I was walking, Pomona College lost some old oaks in Marston Quad and other venerable trees near Carnegie Hall and Seaver House. Some may be repurposed to memorialize them, a campus spokeswoman said Tuesday.
The big daddy was a eucalyptus tree that fell diagonally across broad College Avenue at Fourth Street. The top of the tree, which may have been over 100 feet high, landed just shy of the Pomona College president’s house.
“We were asleep, and I woke up my husband because I heard a huge boom and thought something had hit the house,” President G. Gabrielle Starr told me via a spokeswoman. “We couldn’t see anything in the dark, but the winds were howling.”
The tree is believed to have been planted in 1898 when the street was laid. People visited all through Saturday and Sunday as the tree, its thick trunk rising 5 feet high, lay across the intersection like a beached whale.
People took photos and posed for selfies. Two drones buzzed overhead. It was arbor porn.
Rather than turn it into a permanent tourist attraction, crews in orange vests were there Monday morning with chainsaws. They sheared off branches and limbs, then reduced the trunk to oversized pieces.
Most of the damage in Claremont was to the central core and to its northeast section near the 210 Freeway.
Eight major streets were blocked completely by fallen trees. Crews focused first on those streets to get them opened up, city spokeswoman Bevin Handel told me, then would turn their attention to the dozens of partly blocked streets and finally to parks.
My newspapers were in my driveway as usual Sunday morning, as if it were perfectly normal to have a tree at rest in the middle of my block. My carrier is resourceful. And the street was cleared Monday.
Trees are crucial to the identity of Claremont, whose motto is “The City of Trees.” The city of 36,000 people has an estimated 28,000 trees. Famously, the new settlement’s first act of self-government in 1889 was to form a tree committee.
I don’t want to overstate matters. Only about 1% of Claremont’s trees — an estimated 300 — are a loss. Claremont’s status as a Tree City USA, for 37 years and counting, is probably safe.
Still, 1% isn’t insignificant, nor is the extent of the cleanup.
“We lose a few trees every year. Nobody anticipated something like this,” Handel said.
Miller, the prof, suspects many of the goners were weakened by years of drought. As the drought continues and the planet warms, he warned this may be an augur of a drier future.
“We’ve loved these trees. They’ve made Claremont a slightly cooler place with their canopy,” Miller said. “It will take decades to replace them. It’s going to change the look of our city for a very long time.”
Chet Jaeger led Night Blooming Jazzmen, a Dixieland band that was a favorite around Claremont, especially in its annual Concert in the Park appearances. A resident of Claremont since 1931, Jaeger had a running joke in later years about the town: “I think I’m going to like it.” He was modest about his skills on the cornet. “I can confidently say that I’m one of the better 91-year-old players,” he told me in 2016. Jaeger, who died Jan. 4 at age 97, was practicing daily almost until the end.
David Allen thinks he’s going to like Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Email email@example.com, phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.