Old Friend Crashes to Earth

A tree can be a lifelong friend, a special landmark in the landscape of memory. When it finally crashes down in a high wind, the memories spring vividly to life.

High winds finally took down a friend of my childhood.  The double-trunked oak on the lane to my former house was already massive when I was a toddler, matching the mighty elm just across the Oakway.  I thought of them as husband and wife.  I loved the elm too.  It had an oriole’s nest magically swinging in the breeze every year.  And a great slash down its trunk from the searing lightning bolt that bounced  off the cab of our  pickup as my dad rushed me back from foolishly swimming  in the face of a storm. The pair had privilege as the only two trees  early farmers left standing along the fence row.  I climbed the oak in fits of daring, fetched cows from it’s shade, rested beneath it from picking strawberries and tomatoes, pressed its leaves for school projects, listened raptly to the conversations it carried on with the air.  Most of all, I  looked forward to catching a first sight it of to tell me I was nearly home.

The oak was widowed when the elm succumbed to Dutch elm disease.  When the wind took down one of the twin oak trunks years ago, my dad and his friend laboured to cut it up and split it for firewood, only to find it deftly stolen when they returned to pick it up.  Were they furious!

So now the last of the oak has also come down, blocking the lane, dying spectacularly into a  mass of brown leaves and twisted branches.  I found a enterprising young woodsman and his brother willing tackle the job of cutting it up the largest tree they had ever worked on.  The job of sawing and splitting and hauling took two and a half days.  But now the oak, with its rich, butter yellow wood, is heating my home for the winter.  One last play between us.  I’ll return the ashes to the earth where they may nourish another tree.

Gail Hamilton’s books.

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