I have been thinking a lot about trees lately. In our backyard we have a massive old oak, probably 60 to 70 years old. It dominates our yard with a wide canopy casting shade, towering over all of the other trees in the vicinity. I have one of those tree faces on the trunk, eyes, nose and a mouth that seems a fitting caricature for this old soul.
But this tree has come to the end of its life, at least a life spent living in existence with humans and man-made objects like fences, decks and tool sheds. If she was in a forest living among other trees away from houses and cars maybe she would have a decade or two more. Maybe that is where she started life, as a small sapling in the woods before my neighborhood was built but that is not where she has spent the majority of her life.
I have hired a company to cut her down in the next few weeks and it will be very expensive. There is no way to get a boom truck in so the tree will have to be cut down and hauled off piece by piece, branch by branch, log by log. I have been told it will take all day to take her down which why it is so expensive. I hope it will be done safely but I bet she will put up a fight. Something that old never goes down without a fight.
My first thought was to simply remove three or four of the very large branches and save the rest but the tree person stated I was just prolonging the inevitable, that the tree would eventually become unstable and a danger to people and property. I don’t need that. My neighbors don’t need that. So I made the hard decision to have her removed.
We have lived in our house for twenty years and that tree has been a constant presences for our family. It marked the arrival of Spring with fresh green leaves and a place for the birds to nest. It provided shade for my kids on hot Summer days and leaves in the Fall for them to jump in. And when it snowed in the Winter, a stark, bare contrast against a white background. I tell myself that it is just a tree. A living organism that doesn’t think or feel but it is still a part of our family, an anchor with deep roots that has experienced many changes, seasons and weather for decades. A monument that has stood in time as kids grew, dogs died, and new puppies grew into old dogs. But sadly, the end is here as all endings come.
In his book Being Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh notes that “An oak tree is an oak tree. That is all it has to do. If an oak tree is less than an oak tree, then we are all in trouble.” For the last twenty years our oak tree has been just that, an oak tree but when it is gone in a few weeks the dynamics of my small piece of the world will change dramatically. The morning sun, now filtered, will shine brightly in my bedroom window. The grass, which is currently very thin under the canopy of the tree, will grow thick and green in the coming years. But the biggest change for me will be the hole left in my yard from its disappearance. Not a physical hole but a spiritual hole. A huge, empty space that can’t and won’t be filled or reclaimed in its current majestic form in my lifetime. There is nothing I can do to fill that space and any attempt on my part would be at best feeble so I won’t try.
As I am writing this I look out my window and see the massive trunk and the shade being cast by this gentle giant. I know I will have less leaves and acorns to deal with this Fall. That is a good thing but I would trade those inconveniences if I could keep this old oak in my yard for a few more years. But I can’t and I won’t because at the end of the day it is just a tree, a beautiful and stately tree, but still just a tree.
“Consider a tree for a moment. As beautiful as trees are to look at, we don’t see what goes on underground – as they grow roots. Trees must develop deep roots in order to grow strong and produce their beauty. But we don’t see the roots. We just see and enjoy the beauty. In much the same way, what goes on inside of us is like the roots of a tree.” – Joyce Meyer