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The Leaning Tree

Thursday, May 19, 2011

 Yes, she had a distinct lean to the east. This is my last photo of the great red oak, taken on February 26, 2011. It's a perilous lean. But she'd been leaning for years, and I told myself that that's what some old trees do.

 A couple of times Bill mentioned that he thought she was leaning worse than he'd ever seen, and I had to agree. I took a couple of photos to document it. I guess we both knew the end was coming.

 That little noose hanging down is a remnant of a tire swing that our neighbor Gail, now in his 50's, said they swung on as kids. It's a steel cable. The stories this tree could tell...

When the original owners of our homestead had a thriving orchard, with apples, peaches and bing cherries, they used to put a big keg of cider out under the oak with a dipper and a box for collections.

 February 7, 2011. A pearly morning, the oak standing sentinel, no tracks yet on the clean white page of the day.

Saturday, March 26. Bill, Liam and I are having a Rain Crows weekend in Lakeside, Ohio. We're recording 14 original songs for a demo, having the time of our lives. Phoebe is staying in town. No one is home to witness it. The tree goes down. This is what we see when we come up our road on Sunday, fresh from a weekend of music and friendship.

There are no words.

She's fallen, and the town crews have cut her in half and swung the gigantic stump around so she's not blocking the road. And there she lies to this day.

The next morning, Phoebe and I went out as to a wake, and I shot her against the sunrise. Bluebird box and mailbox miraculously intact. She was a lady to the end.

I came again and again to her, especially after a light snow settled to soften the starkness.

It took four days for me to be able to look on her without weeping. Now, a kind of numbness has settled in.

Waiting for the bus is not the same. It has a sadness, one that only increases as the days begin to warm and she tries to leaf out from fallen twigs.

 Chet Baker makes the best of any situation. He enjoys climbing on the oak's carcass.

That little dog knows how to cheer Mether up. He poses shamelessly.

Find Chet Baker in the photo below.

Yes, you are a magnificent doggeh. And I would like to be more like you in spirit, but I am human, and I grieve.

 Do not grieve, Mether. It is a tree, and it fell down, and now it is a jungle gym.

Here are the roots. You can see the brown rot, presumably wrought by the chicken-of-the-woods fungus.

At the end, she had barely any roots to hang on, barely any heart inside.

All the neighbors tell us that the first eight to ten feet of this tree is absolutely full of metal--fencing, cables, spikes... making her extremely dangerous to process with a chainsaw.

So there she lies. A local guy hacked away at her for a little while, then quit. We don't own the land she's on, so it's hard to figure out just what to do with a carcass weighing many tons and run through with metal. But she's a hazard where she is, blocking our view of an increasingly busy road. She needs to go.

I would like her gone. I would like to be able to replace her with a strong young thing, to not be reminded each time we approach or leave our home of just what we've lost in this beautiful tree.

Many have suggested making furniture out of her...thank you. We lack the technology to do that, but perhaps we'll find a way to salvage something. We're not there yet, not ready for the new puppy. We miss the old dog too much.


We had an old friend fall in a storm a few years ago. It was amazing that she fell between the houses. Not one thing harmed. The old fellow that came to take her out of the garden said that if you love trees they would never fall on your house. You have written a beautiful tribute for a friend that has meant so much.

Julie, Do you know the book Our Tree Named Steve? (a picture book by Alan Zweibel) It's one of my favorites. Makes me tear up every time I read it to my students. I thought about it as I read this post.

How about a few slices of trunk to use as outdoor charger plates for potted plants; or a decent chunk to use as a footstool or table base? I'm sure the old girl would love to be repurposed. Isn't that what we would all like in our senior be repurposed rather than cast aside. My condolences on your loss.

I've been trying to remember enough about the oak my treehouse was in to be able to write something about it. So far no luck, but you inspire me to keep trying with this.

Ref. "find Chet": I see either him or Batman.

Julie, I am so sorry for your loss. I lost only part of a huge maple that shaded my horses and gave refuge to many birds, and I felt as though I'd lost a member of the family. Just a suggestion: I kept a chunk of the base and use it for a bird feeding table in winter and a bird bath support in the summer. This doesn't require much work and keeps the tree as part of it's original habitat. Best wishes to all of your family.

Posted by Anonymous May 19, 2011 at 6:28 AM

We too lost our our favorite old Oak Tree - we called her the Lightning Tree because she had been struck by lightning the spring we moved in to the property. Like yours, she was old and lacked roots to hold her up any longer. She took out some younger trees when she fell, but did not touch grain bins, electric lines or house. She still lies there to become part of the earth where she received her nourishment. She is greatly missed. The view to the north has changed immensely. It will be interesting to see how the little "forest" around it changes this season.

It's so hard to lose a member of the family. I hope you are able to keep part of her for a rustic seat in the garden at least. That way a piece of her will be with you forever, along with the one in your heart.

Dearest Julie, thank you for sharing the love of your big Oak. I know posting all of this must have been gut-wrenching. I teared up when I saw that photo of the oak strewn across the road, cut in half. We become attached to our property and the things on it, and it hurts so much when the beloved parts leave us. And bless Chet Baker for showing all of us that it's just a part of life and we should make the best of it. I bet Chet can make lemonade out of anything! Love ya - HotH

Perhaps 50 years from now Phoebe and Liam will reminisce about the day they helped Mom and Dad plant that little oak sapling.

If you send me a chunk of it, I can make you a bowl or platter to keep as a reminder.

'a sorrow in my heart'

Ow. Thanks as always, Julie.

I know you'll find a fitting way to keep a little piece of your oak friend along on the ride - whether it's literally or figuratively. I can identify - I've always loved birch trees and no one ever discouraged me. We lost a leaner just as we were moving out of our old house that I loved. I look back at all the leaning birch trees in pictures and I'm glad they were there at least for a while.
Jungle gym indeed! Chet's a wise man.

Find a walking stick sized piece of her, coat the ends in paint to avoid checking of the wood. Tube it, mail it.

Wait a very long time.

I will make you a hiking staff.

Pencil some info such as hand placement, desired length.

Did I mention wait a very long time?

And Chet's ears gave him away.
Will do if you do.

Fred, Floridacracker,

you make me sigh a long sweet happy sigh. Friends really can make it all better. Just knowing you would do that fills my heart.

I am so sorry that your friend has transitioned on to the next phase of her life... different from what you are used to.

Try to remember that no tree is truly dead. Look at any so-called "dead tree" that has fallen out in the woods. It is teaming with life of all sorts that still call the tree "home".

So your tree is not dead... it has just transitioned into a different form now, able to lay down after being such a faithful upright soldier.

I would try to find someone with a bulldozer & get the pieces shoved onto your land somewhere & allow your friend to still reside with you. She is different... but still the same. You will enjoy her company as she sits in a different position... having a different function now. Don't discard her just because she's changed. We all do or will, with time.

Love~ Andrea

"Do not grieve, Mether. It is a tree, and it fell down, and now it is a jungle gym."

With him, you relieve your sadness. I found the terrier ears in the middle of the photo and smiled.

I love this post and will miss your oak by the mailbox.

You can't replace your beloved Oak but you can add one...

can you harvest some acorns and start a new tree?

Posted by EmilyS May 20, 2011 at 5:25 PM

Here at Anahuac, we had a world-famous place known as The Willows. It was a wonderful shady pond surrounded by willows. Later volunteers planted cypress in the same area and also added oaks. Hackberry trees also grew there and fed birds in spring when other food was used up.

Hurricane Ike took out ALL the willows and most of the cypress and other trees. When I came here last fall, only one live oak looked alive. The pain of that loss is still with me since I've volunteered at this refuge for at lest twelve years before spending four years away from it .

So I know your pain. I'm currently keeping over 400 newly planted trees watered in an extreme drought here on the Upper Texas Coast. And I have another 100 plus trees in pots and will be making cuttings of several hundred shrubs this summer to both replace and enhance the habitat for birds that use the refuge. Our trees grow much faster here since the grow almost all year. But one day, when your have grandchildren, they will remember the "old oak" that will again be growing by the mailbox.

While you titled your post the leaning tree--it seems to me it was the giving tree.
Remember--matter and energy are interchangeable, so the tree lives and will live (as do we all).

I was going to say that, as fine as the narrative is, the photos are even better. But now I think it's the way the two work together that makes this an unusually nice piece, even by your high standards.

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