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.