Ettie Newlands

The tree was as much a part of our house as the front door.

It stood proudly at the edge of the driveway, forcing cars around it, acknowledging its majestic presence continuously.

Acknowledged in the way we recognize anything that’s been there longer than we have – it was part of the picture, a landmark – “It’s the house with the humungous oak tree in front.”

It was there when we moved in 33 years ago, requiring nothing from us, and we assumed it would be here after we were not.

It sheltered pink azaleas leaning against it.

It kept the sun from bearing down through the front windows.

It housed bird feeders.

It died, the man who came to cut it down told us, from old age. They live 50-80 years, these gifts of nature.

Over the last few years, even mild wind took down limbs, some falling dangerously close to vehicles, some landing precariously on the roof.

And now, after the devastation of Matthew and Florence, with hurricane season upon us once again, we knew it had to come down.

What we didn’t know was how sad that would be.

Yes, the tree was dead, the expert told us. Yes, it was dangerous to leave it standing. And yes, it was traumatic to take it down.

Some of the wood was saved for a woman who’ll use it to make furniture.

Some of the stump was ground into mulch for the gardens.

But the 25-foot tall water oak is gone now. Machines as imposing as the tree, as loud as a hurricane itself, cut it away, foot by foot, branch by branch, limb by limb, memory by memory.

Now our home is “the one without the humungous tree in the driveway.”

The azalea is still there, and soon there’ll be a brick flower enclosure where the tree stood for at least 65 years.

It was Joyce Kilmer who wrote:

“I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day, and lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear, a nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain, who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.”

I get it.

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