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Goodwill Harvest for Tree-Sitter

Protester's friends and supporters hold a Thanksgiving feast at the ancient Santa Clarita Valley oak targeted for relocation.

November 29, 2002|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

A gust of wind rained dust onto a potluck lunch table, and John Quigley suddenly had himself a rustic Thanksgiving meal.

No bother. The Pacific Palisades resident traded in the comforts of home 28 days ago to perch in a giant 400-year-old oak near Santa Clarita in an effort to prevent it from being toppled by developers. If the luxury of a hot shower is a distant memory, a little sand in the mashed potatoes wasn't much to whine about.

The 42-year-old tree-sitter at the fenced-off site in Stevenson Ranch has drawn crowds daily, and Thursday was no different, with cars coming and going all day. Dozens of families en route to Thanksgiving celebrations used the day to see Quigley and the tree, which is 261 years older than the national holiday declared by President Lincoln.

"I'm not an environmentalist by any means. But at some point, someone has to say enough is enough," said Brett Camacho, who came from Fresno to have Thanksgiving dinner with his mother in Valencia and took the opportunity to urge Quigley on.

Laurie Colton, a Valencia resident who has been at the tree every day since Quigley climbed it, didn't break that streak on Thanksgiving. "I've written him notes, I've sent him money, I've done whatever helps," she said. "I never felt like I belonged to a community until I got involved in this."

Developer John Laing Homes wants to widen the adjacent Pico Canyon Road from two lanes to four to meet the needs of the growing suburb. The company announced last week that it would uproot the tree at a cost of $250,000 and replant it in a nearby park. But Quigley said the tree is too old to survive the shock of a move, and he refuses to step down.

With minivans and cars lined along Pico Canyon Road, the area around the tree took on a festive atmosphere. A man walked around playing a banjo. Cameras flashed. Children rode their bikes and hurled questions at Quigley, asking him how he went to the bathroom.

A small table held sliced turkey, a fruit basket, cranberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes, pies and other traditional treats.

Quigley climbed down to the lowest point of the tree possible without touching the ground to grab a plate of turkey and sweet potatoes. Pecan pie, his favorite, was nowhere to be found.

The activist and his supporters have already pledged to resist any attempts by authorities to move the tree, Quigley said.

Thursday may have been the calm before the storm as friends and supporters held a feast in front of the oak, nicknamed Old Glory.

"I never imagined I would get this much attention," said Quigley, who was surrounded by his supporters, holding hands and praying. "Today's a day to give thanks for everything the earth has given us."

At one point a heckler drove by, shouting, "You're a joke. Get out of the oak!"

Quigley's response? "Happy Thanksgiving."

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