2021 OB Christmas Tree harvested and planted

Recording the scene with her phone, Catrina Russell looked forlorn. Part of her family history was dying.

But as Randy Bates of NatureScape used a chainsaw to separate a dramatically leaning tree from its Ocean Beach stump Tuesday, Russell knew it was for the good.

“It’s kind of ironic because I’m helping in the fight to save our palm trees. And here I am, cutting down this tree,” said Russell, wearing jeans and sandals. “But I think it’s clear this tree is a danger. It’s pulling up the sidewalk. It’s growing over our neighbor’s house.

“It has to come out anyway.”

Out but not yet down.

After runner-up status for four or five years, the Long Branch Avenue conifer was finally chosen as the OB Christmas tree, taking its place at the sandy nexus of Abbott Street and Newport Avenue. The OB Town Council pays for the project the week before the annual holiday parade.

Real-estate agent Russell and her husband, Jason Dukes, a general contractor, had lived in the single-story home from 1999 to 2007 after a friend of hers since seventh grade had rented there and planted a sapling in front.

Catrina Russell, who donated this year's OB Christmas tree, helps place the peace symbol on the conifer.
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“She’s the reason I moved to Ocean Beach,” Russell said of the friend. “She and her roommate planted” the tree, only a couple of feet tall.

Years later, she and Dukes bought the house.

“Got married. Had kids,” she said. Two teen boys.

In an annual tradition, she’d decorate the tree, and surround it with lights “without a ladder.”

But after seeing it grow at a scary tilt, well over a fence that wasn’t removed until Monday, “we knew it needed to go,” Russell said.

A saving grace: “It’s very crooked… And it is a perfect OB tree. … Everybody … thinks it’s the coolest thing ever — that it’s going to be the OB Christmas tree.”

Leaning far left (as seen from the street), the 40-foot tree was lowered into its final, temporary beach manhole home about an hour after it was cut down. 

Nikki Cory has been renting the Russell home since September.

A nurse at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Cory shares the house with a teacher friend.

“It’s super special. It’s out first year living in OB, and it’s really cool to see this,” she said. “Such an important thing that happens in OB to be a part of our home.”

Cory, a Maryland native, says the house will feel empty without the front-yard sentry — probably a star pine (also known as Norfolk Island pine, Polynesian pine or triangle tree).

“But it’ll be cool to see it in front of the beach all decorated,” she said. “It’s such a funky tree. I love it.” 

Said Russell: “Hopefully, it’s the most crooked OB tree ever.”

Larry Thayer of Hawthorne Cat, who’s been part of the OB tree project for years, is used to OB yule trees being radically bent.

But referring to tipsy patrons of Newport bars, he said: “It’ll look straight at midnight.”