When A Tree Falls Outside of Red Door, Does It Make A Sound?

Standing tall on Caltech campus, an Engelmann Oak towered over Hameetman Center right outside of the Red Door café exit. Then it fell on March 2. The fallen tree blocked the walkway from the North Houses and Browne Dining Hall to Spalding and Keck. Security soon surrounded the tree and blocked off the area with caution tape. Upon questioning about the fate of the tree, security responded that the arborist would come to cut down the tree, and the walkway was free the next day. To this day, no replacement tree has been planted and there is a vacant pit where the original tree stood.

One day later: “The larger they are, the faster the groundkeepers bring out the chainsaws.” - Anonymous

Shrujana Kunnam (Venerable ‘26) and Ishita Mathur (Avery ‘26) were on their way to Bi 8 recitation when the tree fell. Having just passed in front of Jorgensen, Kunnam noted hearing a noise (Editor’s note: !!) before she “looked up and saw a tree coming down, so I started running.” Mathur shared a similar experience, following Kunnam’s lead in running away from the falling tree until they reached the safety of others further away. Both Kunnam and Mathur noted the suddenness of the fall, recalling no wind or other factors that could have led to the fall. They commended Caltech’s quick response to the tree by clearing the walkway by the next day but questioned whether it was possible to have taken preventative actions.

The previous campus arborist, Bryan Vejar, had founded the Caltech Tree Corps, an organization dedicated to protecting the Caltech tree population. Vejar was also responsible for creating a map identifying each tree on Caltech campus, such as the Engelmann Oak that previously stood outside Red Door, as well as leading tree walks on campus to educate the Caltech community about the trees. However, Vejar left Caltech in January 2023 to join TreePeople as the Community Forestry Foreman for their expansion into the San Gabriel Valley. Although security said an arborist was called, no information about the arborist could be found based on student perceptions and attempts to contact Caltech Grounds about the replacement arborist.

The final fate of the tree is unknown but can be presumed to have gone to waste. Students may recognize “the Engelmann Oak” from the 400-year-old tree that was made into the wooden table in Red Door. Perhaps the newer Engelmann Oak could have also been made into furniture for the Caltech community to enjoy. Given the current presumed lack of arborists, the health of other trees on campus is unknown and raises student concern about similar disasters occurring. However, there is currently no indication of such, though only an arborist can confirm so.