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Ode to a fallen oak

October 29, 2012

I was out for a bike ride with my 10 year old last weekend, and on the cycle path, a large oak tree had come down in a recent storm, blocking the whole path. The middle section had been removed so the path could be used, but the rest of the tree was still in place on both sides of the path. On one side, the big cut trunk was at head height, and was an arresting site as you cycled past it. What was particularly arresting was that it had become the inspiration for some delightful creativity, a real celebration of the life of this huge and beautiful tree.

Someone had written a poem ‘Ode to an Oak’, and fixed it onto the cut surface. Here it is, if you click on the photo it will enlarge:

The other thing, which at first glance was hard to see, was that someone had patiently stood and counted back through the rings, writing key dates as it made its way back through the tree’s life, all the way back to 1835 when it first emerged as a young sapling.

It led to some great conversations with my son about “you were born here”, “I was born here”, “your grandma was born here”, “this is when the First World War was” and so on. It was like the tree’s autobiography laid bare, an intimate glimpse into the history of that small corner of the world. It was such a simple thing to do, but it felt like a real honouring of the tree. We spent quite a while by the tree, looking at how it had grown at different speeds at different times, why that might be, why the wood was less dense at the edges, how big the tree must have been at different times.

For that short time, we were gathered in celebration of the life of a quiet, graceful sentinel of local life, a distinguished local resident who had done so much to add to the quality of life of the local community. We were able to celebrate her beginnings, the strong sapling she became, and the sturdy pillar of the local ecosystem that she became, supporting many hundreds of local species, and building soil and locking up carbon to benefit future generations. It was a passing that was appreciated and honoured, just as it should be.