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The Driveway Oak

Sunday, May 15, 2011

From the most basic to the most deeply spiritual level, it defined our home, the big red oak tree at the end of the driveway. Anyone coming here for the first time knew that it marked the right turn into our drive, wrote “big oak tree” on their directions. But it was so much more than a landmark. It was our friend.

In preparing these posts, I scanned the past two years’ worth of photos. There are many, many more, I’m sure, buried on those external hard drives I should be using. These are enough, I think, to tell the story of what one tree meant to us.

Winter, it was a stark giant, spreading heavy branches against a bleak landscape, casting its shadow across fresh snow. Always, it dwarfed us, but in a friendly giant way, a sheltering way.

 We loved the rhythm of its branches, the way they hung down like a skirt, and we loved seeing its bones revealed when the last brown leaf finally blew off it in November. It marked the sunrise for us, because this is where we wait for the bus every morning, August through early June.


We know how lucky we are to have a bus pick our kids up right at the end of our driveway. The first day of kindergarten for Liam; Phoebe heading back, a seasoned but very excited pro.

 The oak, a great wooden granny, watching for the big yellow bus, leaning with anticipation, it seemed. And off they’d go, and the oak would stroke the bus roof with its leaves, waving farewell.

 The oak sheltered us in rain and warmed us in the cold. If we backed right up against the east side of its trunk on a sunny cold winter morning, it blocked the wind and held the sun for us.

When the mornings got warm, we’d stay in its shade, and Liam would lose himself in Harry Potter or Wimpy Kid, only looking up when the bus rumbled up, a rooster tail of dust rising behind it. The oak gave us a place to be, a pool of cool, an umbrella over us as we waited.

There is more to the story, the difficulty being winnowing it all down, distilling 19 years of true love for a tree into just a few lines, a few of hundreds of images. The difficulty being having to do it.


I don't think I even want to know details. Your use of the past tense says it all. What a huge loss. Isn't it funny how a specific tree can leave such lasting effects and memories in our lives!?

Ok, I'm all misty for your oak. Love.

Ours was a 100 year old sugar maple but I feel your sad to lose these very real parts of our family and family stories as well....

I love those wee kiddee shots of your two darlings.

I think your story has a sad ending.
I can so relate.

My driveway oak, a huge beast of a tree, died late last year. It seemed to be fine one day and then browning the next.

Now, every morning when I walk Bear down the dark, predawn drive, I stand under it and note the changes as the outermost, weakest branches give way and drop.

It's a stark giant skeleton now, still mostly intact, but shrinking.
The palmettos below and the young hollies, bays, and cedars at it's feet are rejoicing of course.

The branches that supported the birds who defecated the holly,cedar, and bay seeds also blocked the young trees from nurturing light.
Not any more though.

They are racing up to take the oak's place.
The king is dead. Long live the king.

I love trees, and have cried over the loss of them as well. I'm afraid I know how your story is going to end.

I hate losing beloved trees.

When my uncle lost a favorite tree, he took some of the wood and made clocks for his family, to keep a part of it always.

Another tree lover here. This sounds like a heartbreak coming. Our tree was also a maple. Took up the whole front yard. A thrill to climb. I wasn't there on that fateful day but did manage to save a piece of bark that in my treasure box. It was the tree I ran directly to, after I got off the school bus, to hug and receive comfort from.... on that horrible day when John Kennedy was shot.

I feel your heart sickness.

I wish we had a tree.

I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a... prothonotary warbler... or, a tree for that matter.
(oaks are particularly grand; sorry for your loss)

I hope the oak in its final form is keeping someone warm as firewood, a fitting good-bye to those who think warmly of it.

Reminds me of Aldo Leopold's "Good Oak," although I don't think he had the depth of personal attachment you had for yours.

I always love a sunset image. We have a lot of older trees in my area, and sadly some are nearing their end of life. Its true that nothing last forever, and for something like a tree that has been around so long thats very sad. Richard from Lebanon county's Amish settlement.

Our sadness at losing our (miserable invasive, but stills ours) Norway Maple last summer has given way to joy in the form of a small but hopeful tulip tree planted a few weeks ago. Looking forward to watching it grow, and watching with trepidation as the other trees around us, home to countless birds, age.

I don't think I'll read your posts for the next few days.
I've had all the sadness I can handle this week.

Sorry to hear this. Our beloved oak, not sure what kind secumbed after many years, it held a tire sweing and other swings, and pulled engines and transmissions out of cars, shade and a cool place to sit.
Several hurricanes lashed and pushed it and it triumphed for more years and after leaning for many years @ 45 degrees gave way to death. My step father made my sister and me pens in it's memory.

Posted by Anonymous May 16, 2011 at 4:02 PM

"A tree will get to know you with its own senses. There might be a time when troubled, you come to see your friend; the tree will take you in its cool, green realm, calm you and refresh you, and you will leave consoled." ~Mary Majka

I believe trees are people too...

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