Freestone woman killed by oak was avowed nature lover who wouldn't be deterred from daily walk by storm
FREESTONE -- The forest where Paula "Jamie" Kuhle walked alone and ultimately died is considered sacred by Freestone locals because of the old-growth redwoods rising majestically into the sky.
The 49-year-old woman had often walked the one-lane gravel road, off Freestone Flat Road east of Bohemian Highway, about a quarter-mile from her home.
Sunday's winter storm could not prevent the massage therapist and avowed nature lover from her daily devotional. After calling a friend for advice with her 6-year-old son's cold, Kuhle donned rain gear and grabbed an umbrella before heading out for what was supposed to be a short walk. She was planning to attend services at Santa Rosa's Center for Spiritual Living later that morning.
Nobody could have predicted her fate. For sure, Kuhle's boyfriend and their son did not expect such a horrific sight when they went out looking for her and came across her lifeless body pinned beneath a fallen oak tree.
"I really expected to find her talking to someone," said John "Vimal" Stewart, a general contractor. "It's just a bizarre set of circumstances."
A lone calla lily was visible on the gravel road Monday at the spot where Kuhle died.
The oak that killed her uprooted about 50 yards away from the road on a steep hillside. The bottom of the broken tree was about five feet downhill from the rooted base, suggesting the oak gathered momentum quickly, as if blown by a strong wind and going airborne.
Whether Kuhle had any time to try and get out of the way will never be known. She was not wearing headphones of any sort, but who knows if the lashing wind through the trees and steady downpour muffled the sound of cracking wood or even if it would have been enough of a warning.
Why that particular tree broke also is a mystery. Stewart said he thought he recognized signs of sudden oak death on the tree, which he estimated to be about 60 feet tall.
What is certain is that had she been walking just a bit slower or faster, Kuhle would have avoided her fate.
One of her brothers said he felt compelled to visit the site Monday to "try and connect the dots" with something that seems so random and meaningless.
"Most of us would have had a better chance of winning the lottery or being struck by lightning than something like this," Ken Kuhle of Palmdale said after driving all night to Freestone. "One second more or one second less would have been the difference between life and death."
David Stewart, his young eyes bloodshot, was cradled in his father's arms Monday as they stood outside their rented Freestone Flat Road home where signs caution motorists to slow down and plum trees are in full purple bloom.
The rural home just north of Freestone was the ideal setting for Jamie Kuhle, who felt she had a spiritual connection with nature and was described by one friend as being left of New Age. One of six children, Kuhle insisted on only organic foods for herself and her son. She wore a pendant around her neck that was supposed to ward off cellular waves she perceived as being a danger to her health.
Friends in this free-spirited west Sonoma County hub admired Kuhle's beliefs and were also a bit bemused by them.