A groundskeeper whose brother died a few weeks ago in a car accident is finding comfort in a small but distinct cross discovered in a tree trunk at a Lafayette, California, cemetery. "Since my brother passed away, I've been looking for signs, waiting for him to come to me in my dreams, tell me goodbye," said Juan Ochoa, 45, who works at Queen of Heaven Cemetery, where tree trimmers on Tuesday stumbled upon the religious symbol. The discovery, he says, is helping ease his pain. Workers removing the fallen California pine stopped cutting when they found the cross image in a section of the tree. No other portions of the tree contained similar markings, Ochoa said.
Cemetery administrators are displaying the 4-inch-thick tree slice in their
office. Plans are to place it in a
clear box for display. "We've never seen anything like it before," said Queen of Heaven worker Anna
Engelhard. People have stopped to pray when they see the cross; others have taken out
their rosary beads. One man who was shaken by the symbol told cemetery workers
he was going to go to church. "He felt the power that there is something," a
staffer said. Emily Chandler owns the tree service whose trimmers discovered the cross. She
said that when her son, a foreman, texted her a photo of the cross, she told him
to take the slice home or that she would keep it herself.
Chandler, whose business has been in Contra Costa County since 1996 but goes back several generations, said
workers have found interesting images within felled timbers, including a
perfectly-shaped heart in a dead birch tree some years ago. But they had never
found a cross until now.
"If you're spiritual, Christian, Catholic, whatever, I think you find very
comforting meanings in things like that when you come across them," she said. For Ochoa, the discovery is especially significant. He planted the tree 12 or
13 years ago at the foot of a gentle hill overlooking some of the Catholic
cemetery's sprawling nearly-200 acres. The tree, he says, was a potted Christmas
tree left at a grave. When families don't pick up such little Christmas trees
after the holidays, workers plant them.
Lewis Feldman, a professor of plant biology at UC Berkeley, says it's
possible the cross is aromatic scar tissue known as "heartwood," which trees
transport into their centers, where the tissue is dead. He theorized the tree
could have had its main tip damaged and the connections belonging to remaining
branches that eventually fell off were preserved, with the brown tannins and
resins moving to the center of the tree. "It's very interesting that it was put in a cross shape," Feldman said.
"Something was going on (with the tree) at that time." Brother Charles Hilken, a professor of medieval studies at Saint Mary's
College in Moraga, said reported appearances of sacred symbols and apparitions
are not surprising. He said that until more is revealed about the matter, the
private experience of believers should be respected.