Hiking to Hollywood’s Wisdom Tree

I’m always drawn to cities that have easy access to nature. Having lived in Vancouver for the past 13 years, steps away from the ocean, I don’t think I could exist in a proper concrete jungle, despite my urbanite tendencies.

Los Angeles is a lot like that, although I’m sure some people might disagree. As I type this, I’m sitting on our rooftop deck surrounded by humming birds – literally, little rapid-fire wings buzzing in my ear – with a view of our quiet street, lined with purple jacaranda trees in full blossom. Nature, only a few blocks south of the Sunset Strip.

The first thing I wanted to do once we made our way back to West Hollywood was to seek out the Wisdom Tree. It sounds like something you’d be more likely to stumble upon in San Francisco rather than L.A., but I was fascinated by the story that has transformed this lone tree into a budding tourist attraction.

As legend would have it, the beautiful old pine was originally someone’s Christmas tree, which they planted at the peak of the Cahuenga trail. In 2007, a devastating 160-acre fire ripped through the Hollywood Hills and the Wisdom Tree was the only tree left standing.

There didn’t used to be a hiking trail to Cahuenga Peak. The land was privately owned by Howard Hughes’ estate until 2002, when it was purchased by a group of investors. Apparently, Hughes purchased the picturesque mountaintop to build a home for he and Ginger Rogers to shack up in, but she was having none of it. So the land was left undeveloped.

The investor group had plans to subdivide the property to build mega-mansions – only a short walk from L.A.’s sacred Hollywood sign – but when the public caught wind of this, activists got to work.

The non-profit organization Trust for Public Land raised $12.5M with the final $900K coming from none other than Hugh Hefner. This was enough to purchase the land from the investor group and convert it into a public park.

At some point, someone left a tin box full of blank journals and pens for people to write their thoughts and leave with the tree. It’s been there for several years now and hasn’t been bolted down in fear of someone stealing it. There’s no one there to monitor it. It’s just a wonderful box overflowing with people’s poetry, thoughts and dreams.

If you visit the Wisdom Tree, be kind to it. Don’t climb it or pull on its branches. Just savor the much-needed shade it provides and soak in the energy of everyone who discovered it before you. And leave something in the journal box. Who knows, maybe there really is something mystic about it? I like to think so.

“It’s like saying let’s build a house in the middle of Yellowstone Park. There are some things that are more important. The Hollywood Sign represents the dreams of millions. It’s a symbol. It is as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. It represents the movies.” – Hugh Hefner

Also published in the Huffington Post.

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