On mourning the loss of a tree

The wood bowls we just got are made with a level of skill that says “I care.” They’re lovely, made from oak. I know they’re from a tree that was 71 years old because it grew in our yard for a generation until it didn’t, and part of it was still alive until a crew cut it down this morning.

I honestly think that the oak in our side yard might have been the best feature of our entire house and property. It was at least three times taller than the house itself, and it was so broad that it shaded most of that yard. It was beautifully shaped, or it was until the last couple of years, and it wasn’t unusual for passers-by to stop and just stare at it for a while. Cars would stop and park underneath it on the street just for the heck of it, their occupants shaded while the driver made a phone call or ate a quick lunch or just took a break in a shady spot. We brought in a tree service every few years to trim it and get rid of any deadwood that might show up. It was just a magnificent thing and part of the fiber of the neighborhood.

Or it was until a few years ago. Kristi noticed the dying crown first — not much of a dying crown, but we’d seen this play out elsewhere with oaks in the neighborhood. The crown dies, and then the center of the tree dies, and then the death expands outward until the tree is mostly dead, if it doesn’t fall over first. I’m not lying when I say that if that tree fell in a storm, it could destroy our home and perhaps its occupants. It was that huge and magnificent.

We tried to nurse it back to health. We’d been using the same tree service for years and years and trusted their arborist — in no small part because when we’d bring him around every couple of years, he sometimes looked at everything and said, “You don’t need any work right now.” But after the death in the middle of the tree kept spreading outward, we called him and feared the worst.

He prescribed emergency work — a fairly heavy thinning that cost the tree a lot of its beauty, and some deep fertilization. But another spring came and I could tell the death had spread yet again. I also noticed that the roots were becoming more visible — never a good sign. I braced for the worst.

We called him again a few weeks ago. He looked at it again and said it was time. And today, the tree was cut down.

There’s a smoothed-over dirt patch tonight where that tree stood this morning. Several neighbors came by to offer their condolences while the work was going on. One of them grabbed a hunk of wood and made the bowls. The wood they were made from is still moist as I write this. I couldn’t help but think that it was still alive somehow.

I wonder if we did something wrong — if we watered the tree too much or not enough, if we should have mulched it (several of my neighbors have A Thing about mulch and I am not a fan, so I never wanted that route), if we should have been more attentive to it when it was healthy. But sometimes, trees just die. That’s what I’m telling myself now.

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