It took down four other trees when it fell: this immense water oak, at least 100 years in age. The wind and rain were like a gale, and its root ball, now lurching 20 feet in the air, while massive, was shallow. This week, the tree crashed down. Workers cleared a large portion of the tree’s crown, and 24 hours later the air still lingered with the sweet smell of fresh sawdust. Yet still, there were over 70 feet of ramrod-straight trunk and a host of branches veering off in all directions, resting along the pond’s edge, and for my children, who spend long indoors during the school week, it proved utterly irresistible!
As we stood with their Nana and Papa, each child climbed up and hugged the tree, arms unable to reach around the rough, stout trunk: the kind that would have been the envy of sailors and shipwrights of old and then scampered about, much like wild squirrels or chipmunks. Here’s the one, tunneling along the trunk’s line, pushing past limbs, determined to emerge on the opposite end. Here’s the next, who started off a follower, but who’s now, kicked off her shoes and has detoured into an opening and found little den, or hollow, or burrow made of branches and a million leaves, still green and fresh. And look, there’s the youngest, not remotely interested in following, who has climbed monkey-style under a branch and is swinging back and forth to see how high he can make the limber branch bounce.
The tree does not creak or shift or crack. It lays solidly along the water’s muddy edge while my children swarm around it. Even in death, this tree, who I have seen for more than two decades now is a thing of magnificent beauty. Gently now, I walk over and pat it’s trunk, bend down and kiss its rough bark and tell it, “Thank you” in a tender voice.
The play continues in the growing dusk, the air made heavy with the scent of magnolias and jasmine.
A pair of mating ducks waddle down the far side of the pond, waiting for us to leave. In a matter of days, no trace of this tree will remain on this spot, even the hole will be filled. Perhaps a sapling will be planted in its place. In time the fallen tree will have faded from memory from the minds of most of the neighborhood. Except, my children will never forget this tree, or the moments spent with it.
And I imagine, years from now, the smell of damp, fresh sawdust, will bring those adventurers back here to this happy space of our collective memory: parents, grandparents, children, and tree.