Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Passing of the Oak Tree

Last Thursday started as a really good day.  I managed to get all of my household chores out of the way early, brewed up some iced orange and mint green tea, and made a dark chocolate cake with buttercream icing.  I did a bit of writing and then called my mom-in-law to chat for a bit.  Then, a mini-disaster struck.

There was a huge series of crashing and banging noises and, as I approached the front window of my house, I realized what it was.  My neighbor's tree was down, leaning precariously against my oak tree and on the side of a white box truck.  I quickly hung up the phone and dashed outside, cell phone in hand.  The driver of the truck was fine but shook up.  He explained that he had maneuvered his truck towards the curb to allow another vehicle to pass by him and, somehow, the top edge of his truck caught a branch of the tree and it just came down.  "The whole tree came down," he kept saying in disbelief.  It was apparent from the remains of the tree that it had been diseased.  The trunk was hollow for about six feet up from the soil line.   I dialed 9-1-1 and explained the situation.  An officer was on the way.  Then chaos ensued.

Before I knew it, there were cops and township workers everywhere.  Information was taken, from me, my neighbor, her renter and the driver of the truck.  The township crew began clearing the parts of the tree in the street and cutting up what was leaning to leave in big hunks on the sidewalk.  (They only take what falls in the street, by the way.)  One of the police officers there told me that I would have to have my tree taken down, or at least trimmed, because it too was in bad shape.  Before I knew it, there was a tree "executioner" in front of me talking about stress fractures, fungus, township fines, the upcoming Nor'Easter, potential damage and pricey numbers.  I was given a tour of my own tree - the rotting taking place at the soil line, some of its brittle branches, and a shelf-like series of mushrooms at the trunk's base - and an estimate was stuck in my hand.  I felt like the helpless victim being circled by sharks.  A quick call to and yelling from my hubby helped me to gather my wits about me.  "There's nothing wrong with that tree!  No one is touching that tree!" he yelled to me through the receiver.  Just get them all out of here, I kept telling myself as I took the tree guy's number, made sure I got my ID back from the police officer, and high-tailed it back indoors.

Once there, I broke down.  Between the adrenaline and the nerves, I just turned into a shaking crying bunch of jello.  This was the second time I was alone in the house when a tree nearly fell on it.  The first had crushed my backyard and put a few holes in my kitchen roof.  The second one had nearly injured someone and had damaged my own dear oak tree.  With the noise of trees falling replaying in my head and with what was now known and not merely suspected about my own tree, I took action.  I placed a call or two, got a couple well-respected tree service companies lined up, and, with estimates in hand, waited anxiously for my hubby to get home.

It was hard enough on my nature-loving, gardening, tree-hugging village wise woman witchy self to digest the fact that my tree had to come down.  I had spent many a storm over the past year or so worrying, almost to the point of being sick, about nature doing the job itself based on my suspicion of a disease coursing its way through the oak's veins.  Now that concern was doubled by the facts being put in front of me by not one, not two, but three tree guys.  "It's about 50 percent gone.  Sure, a healthy tree can be toppled by a big storm.  Will yours go in the next one?  Maybe, maybe not."  This statement from the last of the three echoed in my head.  As hard as it was on me to take all this in, I now had to get my hubby to take it all in too.  My hubby, Goddess bless him, likes to hold onto things fiercely.  He's very territorial much like his Leo lion.  He marks what's his and won't let it go.  It can be an old tool, an overly-worn threadbare shirt, a beloved toy of our son's, or, yes, a tree.  There was a bit of yelling on both parts and some crying (a usual stress reaction for me) on my part but, alas, we came to terms with the fact that it must come down.

We are now, with the help of some really good almost-family friends, negotiating with a tree service or two.  Whoever offers the best price will have the job.  But, in the meantime, the hubby and I are in planning phase.  As I am working on a goodbye ritual for my dear friend, the oak, and researching small trees that are fast-growing and full of brilliant Autumn foliage, the hubby is contemplating a totem pole from the oak's trunk or a towering redwood tree.  Okay, so we are on different pages a bit over what will happen after the oak is gone but, at least, we have accepted that it must be taken down.  Progress.

And through all of this, there stands my poor white oak.  He is sad.  He knows the end is near.  I hear him sighing heavily (think Treebeard in The Lord of the Rings).  His wounds from where the other tree struck him are an angry red.  I actually wince when I look at them.  They remind me of the skinned knees and elbows I have seen on my son, nephews and nieces over the years.  He seems to be moved a fraction from where he stood before.  Perhaps the other tree gave him a nudge.  Or maybe, the sadness of losing his friend, the pain of his wounds and the nearness of the end are weighing on him a bit.  Who could blame him?  I wouldn't stand as tall either.  I talk to him from the window, soothing his worries and thanking him for his shade and his protection through the years.  I have promised him that I will be there when that first saw starts up and will remain there until the last one powers down, that I will take a piece of him to bury in my garden, and that I will never forget him.  He understands that I will plant another tree where he stands now and is happy about it.  "But," he says, "there will never be another tree like me."

And he is right.  There will never be another tree like my dear white oak.  He has been a constant friend, a skilled healer, a fierce protector, and a majestic guardian.  He is the last of his kind on my block.  All his friends have already moved on.  He knows that his time has come but he is holding on, entrusting me with a peaceful and blessed passing from this world.


  1. I cried as I read this...and I laughed a little at the way you and your husband function as it reminds me of a couple I know quite well. Thank you for sharing this with us. May the oak fall as regally as he stood and may the new tree bring its own spirit to your front yard. Tearfully, Molly

  2. this touched my heart!! thank you for sharing...i have whispered blessings for the oak!!! <*)

  3. I too am so connected to nature and especially trees. I know this was very hard for you! What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing! Blessed be!

  4. This definitely touched me and I can almost feel your pain. We too have a large Oak in our yard and I would be beyond devastated if anything happened to it! I love the way you are honouring your Oak and his spirit, it is a beautiful and wonderful tribute to a majestic tree.