Friday, April 24, 2009


I have long been a fan of trees. More recently, I have been a fanatic of trees.

As a matter of fact, my friend Heather Cramer, a wonderful artist and teacher, portrayed me as a protective tree with my three children in my rooted trunk. I love that portrait because I love trees.

I love their strength and their shelter; their reaching and their rooting; their bark and their beauty; their colors and their textures; their patience and their whispers; their fullness and their nakedness; their generosity and their growth; their majesty and their mystery.

I wonder how heavy all the leaves of a mature oak weigh. I wonder if the trees are tickled when the squirrels play chase around and around their trunks and limbs. I wonder if the trees hear the songs of the birds, and if the birds hear the songs of the trees. I wonder how trees can be so patient and generous even with all the assaults humankind imposes on them day in and day out.

One of the reasons we bought our home was because of the presence of all the beautiful old trees in the yard. Their beings were welcoming and protecting. They are members of our family.

Several years ago, I learned from the power company that one of our old oak trees in our yard bordering a city street was dying and needed to be cut down. I saw lots of beautiful green leaves growing from the tree and challenged the power company to tell me why they thought it was dying. From their tree expert, I learned that in a last-gasp effort to survive, oaks (and others, I suppose) will push out multitudes of new leaf growth; however he pointed out that most of the new leaves were growing directly out of the trunk and largest limbs, not smaller branches and twigs. The forester took out a rod and, at ground level, swiped it all the way across the diameter under the tree, proving to me that there were very few roots left. He said that the tree was most likely struck by lightening on the side without the roots, because oak trees have a direct system of circulation (nutrients) that goes in a straight line up the tree. Other species spread out their nutrients in more branching systems (parden the pun). He also told me that once the central branch if a tree is dead/dying, that means the tree is dying. It was very sad for me. We have many old trees, mostly oaks, and we love each one; they shelter us and provide shade and wildlife in our yard. They are one of the top reasons we chose to buy our home. They are an important part of our home.

We had a similar circumstance with another oak on the side of our driveway. I was concerned because it had started shedding some of its bark. I asked the forester to look at it, and -- sure enough -- it had the same problem: hardly any roots. So we schedule the power company to cut both trees down on Wednesday of the next week. Sad indeed.

This was in March following a very dry year. Blessedly, we had a full day of rain on the Tuesday before the scheduled felling. It was cool and moist that day, a harbinger of a lovely spring. The rain ended during the early evening.

That Tuesday night/Wednesday morning around 3 a.m., we woke to a loud sharp sound like a gunshot. It was much louder than a gunshot, however, then I heard a long, loud swoooooossshhhhhhhh, then silence. Andrew and I ran to our bedroom window, and there was the oak at the driveway, lying on the ground!

We called the power company because the tree had fallen on one of the lines. And while we never lost power from the tree falling (however, the power company turned off the power so we could remove the tree), the line ran parallel to the driveway and had been strong enough to aid the tree in a soft fall: it slid down the line to rest at a 60 degree angle from where it had stood. Just far enough over not to do damage to our neighbors home or our cars! That line was really stretched! What a weight!

Trees stand in strength and fall in grace.

We had to cut up the tree ourselves since it had fallen of its own accord. So Andrew and I got out there with his chain saw and started the long process of cutting the tree up. While we worked with the wood, as we worked with the smaller branches, we found that the bark literally slid off whole from the sections because there was so much water between the bark and the wood. I realized that the tree fell because the leaves were weighted down with all the rain water and the tree itself had pumped so much of the water into its dry system that the remaining roots just couldn't hold all the extra weight. So it fell. In its own good time, not ours. There is a lot of justice in that. I found myself patting the trunk and branches as we worked with it. And later that day when the power company came to cut down our other oak, I stood in the front yard sending it love and energy as the chain saws growled. I figured if it was brave enough to stand until it was cut down, I could be brave enough to watch it and be with it.

We have lost 4 large oaks from our yard since moving here 14 years ago. Each one has been a major loss for our family and our home and all the creatures who used their havens.

Later that summer, our neighbors, frightened by our fallen tree, cut down a pair of old oaks in their front yard. The pair of oaks were suffering, there was not doubt about that: new condo construction caused a lot of stress and trauma to all the trees in the next door lot. The developer also paved over all the ground, which smothers root systems.

It was very sad to see them go, too. They had grown up next to each other for at least 150 years. After the first tree was cut down (and gently laid on the ground with a crane instead of just toppled), I had to leave the house; I couldn't bear to see the other tree come down, too.

I wrote poems for two of these trees: "Grandmama Oak" (the first giant to die) and "Crone Oak". I wrote "Crone Oak" a week before the scheduled felling:

This majestic oak
Lifts embrittled arms to the sky
Full of laps moss-soft
that cradle nests
that protect babes
that lull animals to rest.

Her arms stretch skyward
to weather
to accept
to reach.

Even her head branches upwards
into mighty, flowing tendrils
as gentle as Medusa's own,
offering shelter and shade,
dancing with the breezes,
antennae between earth and sky.

This magnificent oak has stood sentry
for over 150 years.
Now, she is dying
from greed:
from roots choked with asphalt,
a black-top grave;
from butchering blade and saws,
wielded by blindness;
from being
too regal
too old
too generous.

Soon, this exquisite Crone
will be
cut apart
chopped down
split up.

Her limbs will whine
with the chain saw and chipper.
She will tremble

The earth will shudder
when she falls.
There will be a deep furrow
where she lies.
There will be a hole in the sky
where she reached.
There will be a soft mound in the earth
where she stood.

And she will be grievously missed.

Three years ago, a 72 foot oak that stood 6" from the back of our garage fell from the wind caused by a hurricane that blew through (an unusual occurence!). The storm came through at night and -- other than the wind and rain -- we didn't hear a thing. Imagine our surprise and sadness when we looked outside our window the next morning and saw that another oak had fallen! And again, it fell the only way it could in order to avoid hitting a structure.

They stand in strength and the fall in grace.

It took a week or so to cut the tree apart. We intend to do something special with some of the trunk: mill and plane it to make a table to honor the tree. I sat in the lowest fork in the tree (trees look SO MUCH BIGGER when they are horizontal than when they are vertical!) and just relaxed into her lap and nurturing (even fallen!). The wood from that tree warmed our home for a year. Even after they fall, they still nurture us. Just like mothers in many ways.

Two years ago, Andrew built a deck onto the back of our home. There is an old oak growing right outside our back door. Andrew intentionally cut the deck around the oak, honoring it and giving it room to continue growing. He was careful where he dug the 6x6 supports that he embedded in cement so as to do the least amount of damage to the root system. I watch the moon climb this oak tree when I relax in our hot tub at night, watching the stars and satellites and planes. Squirrels scamper all along its length and breadth, jumping from twig to twig taking household items to their nests. Doves nest in its top branches. Insects travel along its deeply ridged bark. It shades the hammock in the summer and offers us sky views in the winter.

Recently, this old oak has started shedding some of its bark, so I'm keeping a close eye on it. I'm sending prayers and energy to it. After all, the moon climbs this tree.

I hope your day is full of the blessings of trees!