Tree Autopsy: A Grief Haiku

We had to take down a stately oak tree recently. I was more than a little sad…

This tree was been the habitat of squirrels and birds. It shaded a good portion of the house in midday. But in the last couple of years, it began dropping large branches and having fewer and fewer leaves in the canopy. When I looked at it up against the bright spring sky this year, I knew. It was time to take it down (before it took out our house!)

We have been blessed with a yard with many trees. While things are a little ‘wild’ at the moment, the trees have continued to thrive despite some benevolent neglect. There are white oaks, silver maples, red maples, tulip poplars, cedars and white pines. There’s irises and ferns from my grandparents’ farm. There’s the start of an elderberry grove (so excited about that!) There’s lilacs, my struggling vegetable garden, and a variety of herbs. There’s butterfly bushes and rose of Sharon. And English ivy. So much English ivy… (Would you like some? FREE! Help yourself!)

Guesstimating its age, this oak, (a white oak), probably was a sapling during the Civil War. If trees could talk, I’m sure it would have tales for us. Our area was part of a plantation. What suffering did it silently witness? As the neighborhood developed, there were new families and a school built, and parks for soccer and baseball. From the back edge of our yard, there is a bit of pig wire that has grown into the old cedar trees. The faint outlines of an roadbed run along where there were apple trees. Time and climate and who knows what created an inhospitable situation for our tree… its lifespan was over.

The tree came down in pieces, skillfully dropped in the open areas of the yard. As the larger limbs fell and were cut in place, the yard became a sort of tree “skeleton”. And as we studied the main trunk, we could see the growth rings clearly. The last few years, despite all the rain, the rings were close together. There had been very little growth. Just dying.

Some of the logs have been repurposed as edging in the yard. More will have to be chopped up and bundled for recycling as I have time. The largest part of the trunk lies on our yard – still – which we plan to make into log seats around our fire pit. I know I will sit and stare at the rings on the logs and ponder… I will think about the good and bad it weathered. The years of famine, drought, flood and bounty. Its life – like our lives – are a balance of growth and dormancy, working and resting.

So much of life is found in contrasts and couplets. In the Hebrew scriptures, the book of Ecclesiastes has a famous portion that many know well. We recite it as part of our annual memorial service for our hospice patients…

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

May you continue to weather life’s storms well, friends. This season of COVID-19 is hard. The stresses are constant, it seems. Take time to laugh, to cry, to love, to ask hard questions. Above all, take time to rest and put your roots down deep. Remember you are loved.

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