The boom reverberated through my feet, even though I was one story up and fifteen yards away.
This death has been coming for two years… and yet…
Reed unclipped the small chainsaw from his belt and, using pulleys, hoisted a saw as long as his leg into the last remaining crotch. There was no longer enough tree to climb—no branches to brace on—so he strapped cleats onto his work boots and seemed to float up, pulling with his arms and toeing the trunk, Paul Bunyan practicing to audition for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Throughout the day, I drifted from window to deck, mesmerized by the process and slightly appalled by the gray logs piling in the driveway. If I squinted a little, they were elephant legs and then they were once again wood.
I stood on the back deck staring up into the white oak which shades our house, sister to the one being meticulously brought to the ground. My neighbor stood next to me, following my gaze. They’ve been companions for a long time, she said.
Last year when it became apparent that none of our efforts would save the tree, I placed a clear quartz crystal at its base and left it there throughout the year as the tree slowly faded.
Perhaps it was only a whim, but quartz both transmits and receives electromagnetic information and it keeps time by giving off a regular vibratory pulse (which is why the quartz chip is a necessary component of all sorts of electronics). It was my version of giving an elderly relative a recorder so they could share their stories and history.
It wasn’t until the tree was down to a stump, its twigs turned to wood chips, its branches stacked to be split into firewood, and its trunk readied for the sawmill, that we were able to count the rings. One hundred and forty-four, Reed said gravely. And we all paused in a moment of profound respect.
As an Oak blight ravages my mountain town, I wonder if the Oak will be our modern-day Chestnut, if in a hundred years furniture makers will drool over a wood no longer available and old-timers will date themselves by talking about acorns.
And I think, too, on what happens when a Medicine passes away, when we no longer have the symbolic energy of the Oak to draw on. Oak has long been part of our human history—acorns leeched of tannins and milled to flour, the inner bark used to stop bleeding from gums, hemorrhoids, ulcers, and nosebleeds. Oak leaves have been used as a field dressing for wounds and rashes.
Symbolically I’m fascinated with how oak can tighten up loosening teeth. Teeth represent a feeling of control, and, through chewing, our ability to digest and assimilate life. When we are losing these all-important abilities, it’s Oak that shores us up.
After the tree was down, the ground raked, and the branches hauled off, we sat on the grounded trunk, murmuring nothings but somehow unwilling to step beyond this moment.
My work had piled up in my inbox as the day had become an unexpected wake, this small team of arborists and neighbors and me coming together in a circle of love for the forest in general and this tree in particular.
It was uncoordinated but we wasted nothing: my husband Andrew arranged for the furniture maker, who was milling the trunk. Reed had connected with guys who took the main branches to chunk into firewood to fuel the pits at our local barbecue restaurants. The crew who took down the tree gently removed insects before the wood was chipped and marveled at the cacophony of crows and woodpeckers who protested the tree’s undoing.
As the sun shifted and we sat a few more moments, I realized the day had been a ritual dance, not because we planned it, but because we cared. Our care, our love, turned work into devotion, into prayer.
Share with me, won’t you, about your love of oaks or your dance of devotion.
P.S. If you’re in Asheville and need an arborist who cares deeply for the trees, I can’t recommend Reed Wortley and Canopy Tree Service enough. Plus watching him work is almost as good as watching Jade Fox fly up walls and flip through courtyards.