Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ode to an Oak

I have been overcome with sadness and guilt, but the tree had to go. For many months now woodpeckers have been hammering at the bare heartwood of a large leader branch. In the fall, a huge hen of the woods mushroom (Grifola frondosa) would billow out from the trunk at ground level. These are sure signs that this tree, close to my heart and to my house, was in decay. I would have hugged this tree if I could have gotten my arms around its wide girth. There it stood, so strong and seemingly permanent, its beautiful grainy bark clearly visible from the front door window. The day the arborist arrived to take it down I felt as if I were putting a favorite pet to sleep.

I have many mature oak trees on my property, but with this mighty plant now gone there is one less to host the myriad of insects, birds and mammals that rely on an oak for survival. Now there is one less tree for the warblers to stop over during migration when they flit about and sing way up there amongst the oak blossom to feed on insects. There is such a void: one less squirrel highway and hideaway; thousands of acorns no longer produced; leaves no longer food for caterpillars of tussock moth, hairstreak, underwings, gall wasp; no more cover from which katydids and cicadas sing. A portion of shade has gone from the house. Hostas and ferns will now fry beneath. 

In the tangled wood behind our house this tree would have provided habitat for many years during its slow demise. Indeed, it is brutal to obliterate a tree from the landscape in one day and I plan to plant an oak seedling in its place but with the realization that it will take decades for such a tree to reach maturity.  I will eventually get used to the gaping hole in the canopy and a stump (albeit with a rotten core) will be a monument to the existence of a wonderful life-giving tree.