We lost an old friend yesterday…a stately 65-foot shingle oak.
For the past 20 years, it had provided a welcome canopy of shade for the southwest corner of our home…and had shaded a large portion of the neighbor’s house, too.
Truth be told, the tree has acquired a measure of respectability in death that it didn’t always have in life. Although I was certainly glad for its shade, that dadgum tree often annoyed me, too.
It didn’t have the good sense to drop its leaves in October, like the maples, dogwoods and other deciduous species in my yard. Instead, its leaves – having gone from a luscious emerald green to a drab russet-red – would cling to the branches ‘til spring, thereby ensuring that I’d have to schedule an additional round of leaf-raking each year.
Whenever the oak dropped a branch or two, its fallen limbs tended to irritate as well. Sure, they might be dead…but you couldn’t snap ‘em across your knee in order to form a manageable bundle for the ‘yard waste’ pick up. There was a misshapen resilience to those dead branches, fighting back against any attempt to be cut down to size – as if their very DNA objected to the notion of being taken to the curb.
Still, we’d come to a certain level of accommodation over the years – the shingle oak and I. But things took a nasty turn this summer, when the tree acquired a fungus known as oak wilt. At first, when we noticed the leaves dropping in June, we assumed the oak was just being its idiosyncratic self.
But the leaf drop continued throughout the summer…and picked up its pace…finally rousing me from what had become a state of homeowner’s denial: ‘Perhaps the tree’s just having a bad year.’
By last week, our neighbor’s scowls served to confirm what we’d already come to understand: The shingle oak had to go.
As we started gathering bids for its removal, I also began to delve a bit more deeply into its pedigree and history. I’m not sure how old the tree is…but I know that it was fully mature in the early 1990s when we built the house. I learned that the species got its name from French Creole colonists, who prized the trunk of the oak (which can easily be split into thin sheets) as source of wooden shingles for their homes.
And I got to wondering: Just how long might that tree have been there – in order to grow 65-feet tall? We didn’t get a chance to count the rings – but I’m guessing it’s been there for decades, perhaps even a century or more.
What natural marvels had it seen in that span? How many storms? How many droughts? How many blizzards?
Had other humans, in other generations, taken shelter in its shade?
And so in the end, it became a humbling experience to see the shingle oak come down over the course of a few hours yesterday morning. (Props to County Tree Service, by the way!)
I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving for the shade – and the aggravation – it had provided me for the past 20 years. Perhaps Joyce Kilmer is a bit wiser than I’ve given him credit for being.
It really is true, after all: ‘Only God can make a tree.’