Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The true story of why my great-uncle was buried in a tree

For as long as I can remember, my father has told the story of his uncle from back home in Illinois who, upon his death, somehow wound up having his ashes entombed in a giant sequoia tree in California. My father had never actually seen the tree and this bit of family lore always seemed strange, even far-fetched. But as part of a personal quest to learn more about my heritage, I recently discovered the uncle-in-a-tree story is absolutely true. I saw it myself earlier this month, four miles down a rugged dirt road on the western boundary of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, where I stood at the base of the giant redwood tree that contains the ashes of a great-uncle who died a decade before I was born. Merritt Berry Pratt was born in the tiny hamlet of Paw Paw, Illinois on Oct. 3, 1878. He was my grandmother's older brother and was described in a 1959 biography by C. Raymond Clar as a "short, plump and rather handsome lad," which, I suppose, was intended as some sort of compliment. Merritt received a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago in 1904 and a master's degree in forestry from Yale a year later, after which he was immediately hired by the newly-established United States Forest Service. Merritt was assigned to the Tahoe National Forest, and at a 1906 Fourth of July picnic in Nevada City he met Laura May Schraeder, who became his wife the following year. He left the Forest Service in 1914 to teach at UC Berkeley in the new Division of Forestry of the College of Agriculture, and four years later was appointed deputy California state forester in Sacramento...more

No comments: