The End of the Guardian Oak

I cried all the way to my Early Music class this afternoon. As I rounded the first curve on my route to the community college, men on high cranes were taking chainsaws to the last of the main trunk of the oak tree that stood on this hill for at least 150 years. The raw, gnashing sounds of the chainsaw ricocheted in my ears, and I felt as though a knife was thrust into my chest. This beautiful, steadfast guardian, this old friend, was being murdered before my eyes.

I’ve known this tree for over thirty-five years. It stood at the top of a long hill, near the intersection of what were still, in 1976, two country roads that I drove every day going back and forth to work. Back then, the tree was surrounded by a plant nursery. In the early ’80’s the roads were widened, the nursery sold, and the acreage subdivided. But amazingly, the housing development that took the nursery’s place preserved this oak. Now standing right beside the much widened road, the tree was the guardian of the intersection.

When I moved back into town 15 years ago, this same road again became my route to and from work. Being stopped at the traffic light was always a delight, for while waiting for the light to change, I filled my eyes with the tree’s silhouette against the sky. In spring I watched the new green leaves gradually obscure its tangle of branches. In summer, fully robed in deep green, the tree offered cool contrast to the heat shimmering off the softening pavement. In autumn, glorious reds, russets and golds of its turning leaves sparkled in the waning daylight. And once all the leaves had fallen, the oak’s massive limbs, etched in shades of gray, stretched majestically against the backdrop of winter skies.

There was such age, such deep wisdom in this old oak tree. It stood overseeing this hill for over a century, and in less than a day, it’s gone. Driving home this afternoon, driving up the hill to the stoplight, my eyes searched for the shape of the missing tree, my heart ached at the emptiness. How long, I wonder, will it take for my eyes to give up their search, for my heart to give up aching for the sight of this old friend.


10 thoughts on “The End of the Guardian Oak

  1. There is a mall near me that used to have this wonderful tree up on a little hill when they first opened, and for years it was used as part of their official image. Then one day they just up and decided to cut it down (with much public outcry). Ever since then they have had major crime problems in the parking lot and the mall is now just a shell of its former self. Sometimes I have to wonder where they would be if they had kept that tree. It is like they took away some kind of magic, some kind of protection, when they cut down that tree.

    I am sorry for the loss of your friend.


    1. I think you are right – they invoked seriously bad instant karma by cutting down that tree. Thanks for your comments on both posts, and for understanding this loss.


  2. So sorry about your wonderful tree.

    Have you seen the movie “Flipped” from director Rob Reiner? A major part of the story is the young heroine’s love for a giant sycamore tree in her neighborhood. I won’t spoil the plot if you haven’t seen it … but I think you could relate to her feelings.


  3. When I read this post it resonated so deeply with me, and I found my self talking out loud, saying “oh no” and shaking my head and making sounds of sympathy and empathy. I would have cried too Janet. Our neighbors behind us began chain sawing their massive mulberry tree behind our house that shaded our yard and garden. Like you I was inside my home crying and hating the sound of that chain saw. It is an awful thing to see. i wept for me, the birds and the squirrels that loved it too.
    Why were they cutting down that old oak tree? I do not understand why people don’t respect trees. I am sad for you too.


    1. Thank you for you kind words, Nanci. I don’t know why the tree was cut down. It seemed healthy, and the sections of trunks I saw being loaded onto the trucks did not look hollow and rotted out. My only guess is they did it because they could. There is supposed to be a tree ordinance in my town, but no one pays any attention to it. All you need is a chain saw and you can wreak whatever destruction you want to. I am still so sad as I drive by the emptiness that is supposed to be tree. Janet


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