The Old One is the name we gave to an oak tree that stood in an area off the end of our driveway. It was really, really tall with an enormous circumference. About ten years ago, it started to lean. Each year, it leaned a bit more until the roots on its north side were partially pulled from the earth and the tree leaned on a huge loblolly (Southern pine). We didn’t want to think about taking it down, and even though we worried that it might drop on someone, maybe a car going up our driveway, we couldn’t touch it.
When we were in Maine this summer, we received a frantic call from our daughter. “There’s a tree down on the driveway, a huge one. There was a huge whump when it fell.”
I looked at my husband. “So the Old One has finally fallen.”
But it wasn’t our Old One – it was the pine tree holding it up. The tree had broken off halfway down. We organized a tree removal company to come and get the tree out of the driveway, and when we returned, we saw that our Old One was now leaning on a spindly hardwood, threatening to fall at any time.
We knew the time had come and found a tree removal company (an arborist) who came several days later with his crew. The owner of the company is an Asian American with a doctorate in Philosophy from Harvard. My husband asked him how he came to what he is now doing. He replied his work paid the bills and he actually enjoyed it.
I couldn’t watch and stayed up at the house. When I finally descended the drive the next day, all I could see was the huge cross-section of the base of oak tree, still held to the earth by its roots. The rest of the tree, plus the one that had held it up, was now stacked in huge boles along our creek.
I had to get out to see it up close, but to be honest, it took more than a week before I could bring myself to do it. My daughter and I counted more than 150 rings (we couldn’t get an accurate count) which means the Old One had been standing there since at least the 1860s, maybe longer. Maybe it had seen rebel soldiers passing by; a famous Civil War battle occurred not far away. It had certainly seen turkeys from the turkey farm for which our road is named, and the farm that a black man had on our property – his great granddaughter stopped by one day looking for markers.
My one hope is that a sapling will spring from the still-anchored roots. I will cherish it, help it to flourish, and hope that it will stand tall and proud for another 150 years.
Vade in pace, Old One.