I had originally driven to the end of North Mullen to get a shot of a freighter at anchor, waiting to unload at the Port of Tacoma. The scenic view there looks out on the Puget Sound and Vashon Island and straight into Quartermaster Harbor. I photographed the trunk of a single Madrona growing on the edge of a cliff, which drops down to a green belt that forms the steep back yards of numerous homes along the north facing homes along North Waterview Street. While I was there I really enjoyed the look of the old madrona nearby.
A week later I was having lunch with my friend Jim Harris at Wildfin at Point Ruston. We're both past presidents of The Rotary Club of Tacoma #8 and we get together about once a month for lunch. Jim and I both like photography and I drove up to North Mullen to show him both the view and the madrona.
Before I gave Jim the tour I had already told Peg about the tree. We marveled at the ivy growing on it, noted dead sections, and naked exposed roots.
The naked roots can no longer be seen with the new spring growth, now. The bark and skin of the madrona is still beautiful and interesting.
When Jim and I stopped by I noticed that at the base of the tree you could look into the heart of the madrona , which revealed even more damage.
I began to study the tree more and the dangers it affords.
There's a large rock within a few feet from the trunk. A sign on the fence posts a warning "No Trespassing - Keep Out." The rock has some graffiti on it. I would estimate the weight of the rock around a thousand pounds.
I began imagining the problems that would occur when the tree and the surrounding land falls away.
The tree and the rock are behind the fence. I suppose that would keep people from wandering too close the edge of the cliff and falling over, but the greater danger is just being close-by with the tree and land gives way.
There's a barrier at the end of the road. It's in disrepair. A large bolt holds one hefty plank, but the plank is rotten, dried out, and hangs on several inches away from the post. Another plank hangs down on the right side.
The barrier keeps people from climbing on it, not because it's strong, but because even the casual observer can see the barrier itself isn't safe. I could see how someone climbing on the barrier could not only cause the barrier to collapse, but also the edge of the cliff.
A foot or two on the other side of the barrier there is nothing by air.
Land has already slipped from around the madrona leaving it on the cusp of a great fall.
We live on North Huson about two blocks away. During our Easter dinner, I would occasionally look over at the madrona from our dining room. The trees between our home and the homes on Ferdinand and Mullen were all swaying. I could see the branches of the madrona replicating the same movements. Maybe the tree is stronger than I think, because I expected it to gone the next time I turned around to look and it's still there.
I had thoughts of hiking up the hill from North Waterview to get a shot of the roots, but then thought better of it. The madrona and the North Waterview are just a little over one hundred feet away. A steep one hundred feet drop and slide.
I did take some photographs looking up at the madrona through the alders below. Where I stood on North Waterview was in front of a home between Waterview and the train track.
When the tree falls or slips from its perch, the madrona, the rock, and the barrier could all form a landslide or mudslide that could wipe out the alders, which have been holding back erosion. This could either provide a new front yard for the home there, or move it closer to the track.
Waterview has been closed several times over the years while clean-up crews do their jobs . . . and people still are building near the edges above the road.
I would not be surprised to see the end of North Mullen comprise a fifty-foot wide slide or better. The next rain storm could do it. In the mean time the madrona is still a beautiful tree . . . even with a dead trunk and dead limbs and branches.
I wonder how many more Tacoma rain storms it can survive.
Months later on Groundhog Day in 2017 after small wind storm with strong gusts I looked out our kitchen window and said, "The Madrona is gone!"
I had to look several times to make sure. There was a new patch of Commencement Bay blue between two house were the tree used to stand. Gusts had flipped a picnic table over under our carport and knocked over a five and a half foot tool closet, which was filled with yard tools and other equipment.
During the storm I has seen plastic bottles of windshield washer liquid, and pvc pipe connections roll past my office window and we had heard thumps and bumps, but seeing what the wind had done around the house was surprising. But I was shocked about the madrona. I thought a rain storm would loosen the roots and the whole thing would avalance down the cliff and block the road below. Actually, it still might.
Peg and I got into our car and drove two blocks to the see the damage.