SAN JOSE, Calif. -- For 2,000 years, the "Pioneer Cabin Tree" grew in peaceful grandeur in a land not yet California -- reaching ever taller as the Miwoks hunted, the Aztecs mined gold, Chinese perfected silk, Romans expanded their empire and waves of new immigrants arrived in America.
Sunday, with the stunning finality of a beheading, it fell.
The aging giant sequoia -- known for an immense cabin-shaped hole in its trunk -- was pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, toppled by fierce winds and 8 inches of rain in its home in the North Grove of Calaveras Big Trees State Park in Arnold, northeast of Stockton.
No one saw it fall because the trail was closed due to rising creek waters. But an astonished park docent discovered the shattered tree on an afternoon walk, then called authorities.
This week, the grove is cordoned off as tree pathologists arrive to conduct a detailed postmortem. There are no immediate plans for its fate.
"It's sad from the perspective of human history -- how many generations of families have walked through this beautiful tree," delighting in the huge hole excavated in its trunk, said supervising park ranger Tony Tealdi.
By Monday morning, more than 2,100 people had commented on the Calaveras Big Trees Association's Facebook post, some sharing stories about their visits over the years.
"It is so so sad," said Mariam Alsugire, 18, of Oakley, who visited the tree last week. "It was so beautiful; I feel so lucky to have seen it. It was worth the trip.
"I walked through it. It was so big it could fit 15 to 20 people inside the trunk," said Alsugire. "There were icicles of tree sap hanging down, and below the trunk was ice and snow. To see it in winter was such a cool experience."
Truth be told, the tree had been ailing.