An old friend died last week. He was mighty, not yet ready to die, still reaching out to shelter others. He didn’t die from Covid or even a heart attack. Perhaps hubris but that’s hard to measure. I can’t even say he died from old age, although he was old, probably at least 100 years.
The friend I’m writing about was a hug oak tree, and the reason I say “perhaps hubris” was that his roots extended so far they broke into our across the street neighbor’s sewage line and filled their basement with sewage. And so, the city came out, began by cutting off his crown, then a mid-section and another and another, until he was shaved to the ground, at which point they dug out a hole some 15×15 feet, and thus, removed the offending roots. Thee city also filled in the hole and replanted the lawn, in case you’re wondering if neighbors still have a gaping wound in their yard.
Perhaps he mourned his old couple who, about four years ago, sold the house where they had raised their children and moved into an apartment. The new family moved in. They weren’t old, but neither were they really young. Their last child was about 13 years old when they moved in and now in his first year of college. So maybe the tree mourned the boy leaving home. Maybe it thought he could get this couple to leave and bring back the old folks. Who knows how trees think.
The city has also come through over the years to trim up lower branches which is fine. It’s certainly helped my view. And a couple of times, my son has pulled out his trusty electric saw for a branch that was too low and hanging over the cars. The tree seems to recover just fine.
Kansas City has many streets lined with old oaks and occasionally, one needs to come down, for one reason or another. Sometimes they have side branches damaged by storms. Most of these streets, and certainly ours, were build by a particular developer, Edward A. Diebolt in the early 1900s with straight streets and young oaks lining those streets.
When I taught night classes out at the Junior College, I’d breathe a big sigh of relief when I turned off the main road and onto our two block long street, oaks sheltering my last few minutes home, removing me from traffic and giving me shelter all the way. I loved the seeing my headlights reflected from those overhanging leaves.
The squirrels probably mourn the tree, too. We have a lot of squirrels in our neighborhood who love acorns, and there’s always a lot of acorns. They drop, and in a wind it sometimes sounds like hail.
We feed birds and squirrels in our backyard. One day, when I went to buy the 40 pound bag of mixed seeds which we use to produce a backyard full of wildlife, the man helping me said, “You must feed a lot of birds.” “And squirrels,” I said. “They like our backyard., too”
The man looked at me sort of squinty-eyed and said, “I just shoot them.” I avoid his check out when I now buy more seed.
I’m glad the neighbors across the street have a clean basement, and I’m glad the tree in front of our house has survived the hammering and digging that occurred when the city recently replaced the water pipes. But my old friend still leaves a gap in my heart when I look across the street.