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London’s oak not dead, Vox Populi aids Woman’s Club

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Sylvia Crawford/Glen Ellen Columnist

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Hands of time take wing

It seems that quite suddenly the calendar pages must jump forward; we have arrived at a new year. Way back in the day, when my grade school friends and I would contemplate the future, we’d make wagers on whether we’d all still be around in the next century. Back then, it seemed barely possible. In some ways, it still seems like that. 2014? You must be kidding.

But, as I promised in last week’s column, my sweetie and I greeted the new year by breathing in the bracing air at Drake’s Beach in Pt. Reyes. The sparkling sun on the breaking waves, whipping winds and blowing sand, a high tide and a shoreside walk revived us both.

I ended the afternoon with a brief stop at the Pt. Reyes Book Store, picking up a copy of Tom Killion’s Woodcut Prints 2014 calendar. As of this writing, it still rests, tightly packed in its shrink-wrap covering. Let January wait a bit (as Robert Frost begged of October). I’m still enjoying John Muir Law’s illustrated calendar of 2013. Little wonder I can’t quite keep up with the day.

But keep up I must. My two column items today are truly important news. The first story is the rest of a story that ran on the front page.

The second story is simply a feel-good New Year’s gift from a remarkable group of happy folks.

Not dead yet?

The majestic oak that towers over Jack London’s writing room has been saved from the axe. Tjiska Van Wyk, executive director of Jack London Park Partners announced the news just before Christmas, claiming, “What a gift!” Indeed it was.

But it took a long time to unwrap.

That gift first appeared on our doorstep last Aug. 16, when Sonoma resident Chris R. Monroe’s letter to the editor was published in the Sonoma Index-Tribune.

Three state arborists had concluded that the Jack London oak was diseased and had to be removed. In his letter, Chris responded, “As someone with some experience in trees and plants, I have to disagree. I have been up to the tree on several occasions since the state announced its intentions. In those visits, I have collected evidence that I believe refutes the arborists’ reports. I have sent this evidence to an acquaintance who happens to be the discoverer of sudden oak death, Professor Matteo Garbelotto of UC Berkeley.”

Chris ended his letter with the hope that “the state will reconsider its decision.”

Death row reprieve

Chris deserves acknowledgement for helping to alert people to the mistaken death sentence.

Last Oct. 6, a public celebration was held at the Jack London State Historic Park, as a sort of farewell to the tree. Many people spoke their final good-byes, including state officials, Miwok elders, and poets, famous and local. We applauded them all, and listened with sadness, settled in chairs where the prospective victim, that noble tree, provided a stately backdrop. Just after local Glen Ellen poet Jim Berkland read his lovely tribute, another speaker stepped to the podium.

That was Barbara Jacobsen, Sonoma’s Artist Treasure of 2012. Barbara shared her son Chris’s poignant letter and voiced his sincere plea that the oak be spared; it was not in imminent danger of falling and should not be taken prematurely.

Chris’s evidence was later corroborated, once again by tree expert Matteo Garbelotto, the UC Forest Pathology expert that Chris first cited in his letter. This grand “news” was picked up by AP sources and appeared in papers throughout the country just before Christmas.

We applaud Chris Monroe for his dedication to saving Jack London’s majestic oak, a tree that has stood for more than 350 years. Thank you, Chris.

Barbara, Chris’s mom, said, “I believe that none of this would have happened without Chris’s passionate commitment to saving the tree.”

Barbara goes on to share, “Chris is equally dedicated to our waterways, and has been single-handedly cleaning debris out of the creeks on a daily basis for many years.” Chris has also started an investigation of a toxic waste site on Sonoma Creek. He’s been sending letters and photos to Fish and Game and the EPA. Although no official agencies have picked up on this yet, Chris perseveres. And, as he did with the oak, his efforts will make a difference, and benefit us all.

Barbara ends her note with this tribute to her son’s efforts and why they matter, “To me, this is a great example of how much of a difference one person can make, by following their heart and persevering against great odds!”

For all of his local environmental activism, I believe that Chris is among those who truly live by Jack’s maxim, “The function of man is to live, not ?to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time!” We are happy to acknowledge and honor Chris Monroe in this column.

Voice of the people

My second story is about another modest fellow who goes about doing good in this community. He is much loved by the entire choir he directs and much appreciated by the folks in this town who love his musical arrangements. I consider myself a current member of the latter group and a former member of the first group.

That fellow would be none other than Mark Dennis, choir leader and musical genius who does all of the arrangements for Sonoma Vox Populi’s amazing choir.

Back in the beforetime, Mark was a good ole rock ‘n roller, initially with a group known as Gig Jung. The fellows of that band began in the wilds of Ohio and wandered west until they reached Sonoma, followed by a few groupies who loved their music. Jump forward to 2008: Mark formed a community choir in Sonoma, named it Vox Populi and the legend continues.

Auditions are tough: Mark looks the hopeful choir member directly in the eyes and asks, “Can you sing in tune?” An affirmative gets you into the choir. But it’s the daily practice and dedication to learning one’s part to perfection that keeps you in good standing in Vox Populi. And Mark certainly does work his choir members. They rehearse once a week, but are expected to perfect their parts by practicing daily during the week.

If you’d like to enjoy a bit of Mark and the choir’s moving melodies and healing harmonies, you will want to get your tickets soon for their Friday, Jan. 17, concert at the Sonoma Woman’s Club. The doors open at 7 p.m. with the concert beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are available at Heidi Geffen’s Tiddle E. Winks store and across the street at Andy Weinberger’s Readers’ Books.

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The “Folks in Glen Ellen” can also be found online. Look for it at www.sonomanews.com/Life-History. Want to see your own name in the news? Share your stories with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me, 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me, Creekbottom@earthlink.net.