Our great oak tree is ailing, our huge oak tree has got to go.
That’s the verdict from the arborist, and even though we half expected it, we are sad. More than sad—a heavy feeling settles round us for the rest of the day, a big black cloud of depression.
The tree has been here longer than us; it was already quite large when we moved into the house 18 years ago. Our tree has sheltered and shaded the back garden, given welcome shade to the deck so we can enjoy dinner outside all summer. Countless birds and squirrels have lived in its branches, and we often hear the cardinal singing his heart out from the top. It’s a friend that we see when we look out our bedroom window, and it’s part of the landscape of our lives. The back garden IS, because of the tree, and we can’t imagine the blank spot, the emptiness, the sterility when it’s gone.
We keep hoping that it’s not real, that there will be a new verdict…”Oh, actually, we think that your oak will be okay. It can stay”. But, the problem has been developing for years, slowly and unperceived at first, then with more and more dead branches, strange leaf formations and fungi on the trunk, until it can’t be denied any longer. Like the insidious onset of some terrible human ailment.
I can’t even begin to explain how or why a tree is so important in our lives. A large, strong, nurturing feature, a beautifying element. Green, leafy and cool when it needs to be in the hot summer, a tracery of branches against the bright blue sky in winter, a delight of small feathery leaf-parachutes in spring, a brown leaf-dropping machine in autumn.
A few year’s ago I wrote about our budding oak tree, as part of the predictability of nature, of regular cycles and repeating rhythms. One spring day greenish-yellow tassles droop down, like little jelly-fish, other branches dotted with soft leafy jelly-fish and parachutes. The branches, waving in the breeze, are alive with these fluffy tassles, each a promise of what’s to come—each will be a cluster of leaves. This is the future food for squirrels. Where are the acorns now? We can’t see them but we know they will be there, as the patterns of nature repeat. But, for us, and for the creatures in our garden, this pattern will be broken.
My friend Ann H. contacted me today to say that her mother is dying, with a diagnosis of secondary cancer of the liver. She said, “I can’t believe I won’t have a mother soon”. And, although we can’t equate mothers with trees, there are similarities. Disbelief, sadness, a desperate hope that there’s a mistake. This leads to thoughts of the impermanence of everything in life, how everything and everyone has a season and a time to go. We have to try and make sure that we make the most of our time, not squander it, and to do the best we can, to leave a good footprint on this earth. Just like I know Ann’s mother did, and our tree has done, each in their own way.
PS. Our tree is gone, replaced by a big empty space. There’s a new view from our windows, we have a new garden that we hate, it’s almost as though we have moved to a new place. The adjustment will be worse than we thought. Commonsense tells us “It’s only a tree”, but commonsense also tells us that the whole ecology of the house and garden will change. Perhaps we should do some scientific experiments to measure the effects, and thereby somehow give some meaning to all this?!