Friday, August 27, 2010

Epitaph for a Family Tree

Recently we had to have a great Southern red oak tree in our backyard cut down. It was like losing a member of the family. Thus this epitaph, which was published in our local newspaper, The Smithfield Times.

We are in mourning for a member of the family--a gnarled southern red oak tree that shaded our backyard for more than two centuries. Three generations of my family enjoyed its majestic beauty. Our grandfather tied his mules under that tree when he came to the house for the midday ”dinner” common on farms. My brother, sister and I played beneath its sheltering branches. I collected acorns, placing them on the tiny plates of my tea-set for a pretend meal that would have been a real meal for squirrels.

But we had to take it down. Trees age as people do but in tree time, not human time. Two weeks ago, the tree suffered a fracture as one of its enormous limbs crashed to the ground during the night. After consulting with local tree services, we had to recognize the tree was dying, and we had to put it – and us – out of our misery. The old tree was no longer a protective organism but a danger to life and human limb.

So the tree comes to the end of a life stretching back beyond my family, connecting us to a deeper history with the greater human family and the land. Its acorn may have spouted when Native Americans hunted on this land and paddled their canoes along the “creek,” as we affectionately call the Pagan River that flows along the back of the property. We know Native Americans were here because my nephew has found many projectile points in the fields.

Saying goodbye to this botanical member of our family has been painful and morbidly fascinating. Using ropes, crane and saw with surgical expertise, the highly capable Wade Brothers cut off the tree’s massive limbs one by one until it stood like a giant amputee with bare stubs. Finally, they felled its great trunk with an earthquaking roar as it struck the ground and lay like a wounded prehistoric beast.

It came to my generation to let it go. My brother Vasco Batten will enjoy its warmth as he burns oak logs in his fireplace next winter. We’ll spread oak-chip mulch to nourish our gardens. Now there’s only a gap in the sky where its 100-foot crown once spread its leafy branches. The tree enriched our lives. If not blood kin, it was sap kin. Humans share with trees, and other plants, the same four chemical building blocks that make up our DNA—our legacy of life on Earth. We’ll miss it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Mary,

Your epitaph for the tree was deeply moving,and I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to watch it go. I know you will always have some wonderful memories about what it meant to have it in your family for such a long time,and hopefully,those memories will sustain you and keep you strong.