Driving by my house on the way from school to an appointment I was shocked to see that the oldest tree in my yard had come down in Wednesday’s hard winds. The trunk still stands, but the yard is filled with the top, limbs larger than most mature trees.
This oak had been struck by lightning 40 years ago, and hit squarely by a truck in the late 70’s, in a brutal accident that killed the driver. It had survived Hurricane Hugo eighteen years ago, losing a giant limb, but it stood otherwise intact. Its six ancient companion oaks had all toppled over the years, unexpectedly, striking blows like earthquakes .
Under this tree we had built snowmen. My sons remember shooting their bows at a target balanced against its trunk. We had thrown a big party beneath it to celebrate my brother’s marriage. I had stood in its shade in my own wedding gown, as had my aunt before me.
I had come to watch its canopy obsessively, looking for signs of sickness, and dreaded the day I knew would come. Its canopy had been lush this past year, and it cast so many acorns on the lawn it’s impossible to walk there. It had even taken to sending limbs down toward the ground– as if to attempt communication with its human family.
Its trunk still stands 25 feet tall or so, with the lowest limbs intact, but its sheltering limbs are gone. I found myself feeling exposed, my shelter gone. It reminded me of the emotions I experienced when my father died in my 20’s. I no longer felt protected. The man I imagined to be the strongest person on earth was gone. The tree that would take four men’s arms to encircle is gone. The sky is empty where there was complex tracery. Empty.
My brother reminded me of my good fortune to make me feel better. He’s right, of course. “If this is the worst thing that happened to you today, you are okay”. But on the phone later, calling each member of the family to announce the death, I realized we all grieve the loss of beauty. Born before the American Revolution, witness to the life of my family for six generations, and to another family before that, this tree will have no replacement in my lifetime.