November snuck in while I was staring at a large, alien-like object lying dead in my yard. People that see the giant oak just repeat the same three word phrases to themselves as they try to process 1. the sheer enormity of the thing, from its giant, slithering tentacles to a four foot thick trunk, and 2. the odds of it falling precicely between two homes it could have easily crushed. Laying on it’s side, the massive branches still hover thirty feet in the air, and the footprint covers my entire yard, roughly one hundred feet long by fifty wide. Oh, one of the sayings is, “OMG!” The other is “WTF!” Yesterday my mom saw it and went with about ten repetitions of the former.
I always worried about that big, beautiful tree falling on the house. Several long, thick branches inched closer to the asphalt shingles as the years passed. A stinging 2008 December ice storm produced the scariest night ever in my home. For hours, as tree limbs exploded shards of ice and splinters in the woods behind my home, the large limbs of the oak pressed against my attic bedroom skylight. When the biggest arms of the old tree survived that night, I stopped worrying about one of them reaching unwelcomed through my roof.
The October snowstorm not predicted by the Farmer’s Almanac dumped over a foot of heavy, wet snow that knew it’s days were numbered. This was not January snow that knew temperatures would keep it solid well into March. This was snow that knew it was lucky to be alive, but was realistic enough to know it wouldn’t see Christmas. It infiltrated every crevice of the mossy bark and clung desperately to thousands of leaves, also desperate to remain connected to life just a few more weeks. I imagined some aristocratic leaf like the Caladin Hoxley character in “Titanic” shaking snow off and yelling, “you’ll swamp the boat!” The snow kept coming…
Part of me wishes I heard it, but the part that slept downstairs during that ice storm is glad I didn’t. The weight of the snow and the high winds teamed with gravity and inertia to send the celebrity of our landscape into a sway so powerful, it ripped the entire century old root system out of the ground into a chaotic ball of soil, rocks and torn arteries. The impact sliced a long section from the top side of the trunk length. The twenty foot severed section now hovers above the trunk like an airborne, riderless surfboard. One hundred plus years of life was over in less than five seconds. Then nature carried on; her snow and wind no longer impeded by life in that particular space.
In some ways, the old oak tree was a natural extension of my now 81 year old Craftsman bungalow. They grew up together, and now sadly the clock ran out for one of them. I have many family pictures with that tree… its branches, the strong, wide trunk, or simply the shade it provided to prevent overexposed snapshots. I took several off my deck during all of the seasons featuring one outreaching arm. Over the next few winter’s, that arm and much of the rest of that tree will warm a family in a nearby town.