Heartwood

Cross found in Lafayette cemetery tree

The following appeared on November 19 in the Contra Costa Times.

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, Calif., 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. Tuesday afternoon it sat in a gold stand, but 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 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 the University of California-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, Calif., 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.

Scientific phenomenon or not, cemetery employees are happy with the find.

“It’s on holy ground where a lot of people are buried,” said Joanna DiSibio, a family service counselor at Queen of Heaven. “We believe there’s a meaning to it.”

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Comments

  1. The miracle is in the peoples’ hearts. The sky after it rained yesterday was so beautiful, with layers of gauzy marbly clouds, I had to thank God and praise him for His glory. (Chesterton taught us to say Grace before enjoying things other than meals, so I said grace at the everyday miracle.) On Sunday I taught my little grandchildren that a grove of flaming red-leaved trees is God saying ”I love you”, or even a single flower that you alone will ever look upon is a love note from God to you! He didn’t need to make His beautiful world. Animals have natural joy, but only we can see that it is beautiful, with perception that we inherit from God’s own Nature.

    • Kenneth M. Fisher says:

      Charlio,

      You have a God centered heart. What you told your grandchildren is beautiful and they will remember it.

      God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
      Kenneth M. Fisher

  2. That is a precious story and I do believe it was a special sign to Mr. Ochoa, who was in need of one at that time. It shows how God is in even the most minute details, that the tree had to be cut down at just that time and that it was the one Mr. Ochoa planted in the first place. I hope this comforts him, as it was meant to do.

  3. Cole Thornton says:

    Years ago I was at a charismatic parish where several parishioners were always trying to see some sign of something wherever. “I see Padre Pio in the textures of the drywall in the sanctuary at 3pm”. “Do you see that angel in that cloud over there?”. “That rock on the ground looks like Mary”. At parish missions – “I feel so full of the Holy Spirit” then they would fall on the floor and seem to be passed out for anywhere from 2 to 30 minutes. I guess that’s just not my kind of religion. I’ll be going out to the quiet of my patio chair and say my rosary.

    • Kenneth M. Fisher says:

      Cole Thornton,

      I agree that many are seeing signs where they really don’t exists, but there is no doubt that what occured in that cut tree trunk is a Cross. Had they cut maybe a few inches more either way, they may not have even seen it!

      Add to this the fact that the tree was planted by Groundskeeper himself, wow!

      God does give us signs that our beloved are safe with him!

      God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
      Kenneth M. Fisher

  4. Yes, it does seem as though Mr. Ochoa asked for a sign and got it. It would be just too coincidental not to be one. I and others have had things such as this happen to us, so I understand.

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