SAN ANTONIO LIGHT: The San Antonio Light, a daily afternoon and Sunday morning newspaper in San Antonio, Texas began as the San Antonio Surprise in 1881. The paper subsequently morphed through a series of titles including the Evening Light, the Daily Light, the Light and Gazette, and finally settled on the San Antonio Light title in 1911. The Light was published continuously until late in 1992, and closed shortly after its purchase by the Hearst Corporation.
This posting is a letter that I submitted to the editors of the San Antonio Light way back in 1990, and in the interest of full disclosure I must admit that it was never published. Apparently my letter touched a nerve, or perhaps several nerves, because it was neither printed nor acknowledged.
November 26, 1990
Letters to the Editor, San Antonio Light
PO Box 161
San Antonio, TX 78291
Susan McAtee’s article on big trees in your VIVA section on Sunday, 25 November featured some dimensions that sent me scrambling for my calculator and the World Almanac. Susan cited the General Sherman giant sequoia as the largest tree on the National Registry of Big Trees, with a diameter of 998 inches.
A quick application of “pie-are-square” revealed that such a tree hollowed out would accommodate a home of 5,179 square feet with the outer walls one foot thick. Since official measurements are taken at a point four and one-half feet above ground, floor space at ground level might be even greater. A tree that large would accommodate a ten lane freeway, each lane 8 feet wide with a median of 3.2 feet (and I thought one lane built through a tree was impressive).
I wonder how Susan fared in Geometry 101. Diameter is the distance across a circle, or in the case of trees, the thickness of the trunk. Circumference is the distance around the circle, the distance around the tree trunk. The General Sherman, last measured in 1975, has a diameter of 26.5 feet and a circumference of 83.2 feet. Either Susan confused diameter with circumference or the General Sherman has experienced phenomenal growth in the past 15 years.
Her apparent confusion also extended to a cherry tree (64 inches in diameter, or 5.3 feet), a maple (80 inches in diameter, or 6.7 feet), and the Goose Island live oak, a whopping 422 inches in diameter. Try to imagine a tree 35 feet thick and only 44 feet tall—such a tree defies imagination!
The article would have benefitted from outside proofing, perhaps in collaboration with Bill Graves of Uvalde, Texas, the person that was interviewed for the story. And except for the misleading statistics the feature was interesting—well written and informative.
And that was my letter to the editor. This next bit of information may be adding insult to injury, but here’s another statistic concerning the San Antonio Light. When the Light closed in 1992, two years after the Big Tree feature appeared in its VIVA section, it employed 600 people including 134 editorial staff. With that many editorial staffers, surely at least one could have been assigned to corroborate the Big Trees dimensions. And I can’t help wondering whether the writer of the Big Trees feature was one of those remaining 134 staffers. I don’t know how well the writer fared after receipt of the letter, but if she remained on staff as a writer she must have had a very close relationship, familial or otherwise, with the people upstairs.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.