Steve Madewell

Pedestrian Ramblings

The Demise of a Oak Tree:

After four days of gentle rain a giant oak tree tipped over. For well over a hundred years it had grown of the side of the creek valley. Ironically it's health and growth led to its ultimate demise as the weight of the tree exceeded the ability of the roots and soil to support it. It is spring time and the tree was adorned with chartreuse pollen covered florets. Young leaves were beginning to unfold and maybe the additional burden of the new growth combined with the saturated soil proved too much for the rocky hillside to bear.

I was out walking another wood looking for morels when MJ called. She explained the quiver in her voice and said her heart was racing due to the house jarring impact that occurred when the giant tree came down. It smashed through an 18 inch black walnut breaking it off about three feet above the ground. It tore through two sugar maples and smashed a host of smaller trees. The top fell across the trail to the barn onto a bed of mixed hostas and ferns. It left the trail covered with a mat of oak pollen and florets. 

When I got home I inspected the mass of plant material that lay in a twisted jumble. The limbs went thirty or more feet into the air and busted and bent saplings were pointing in every direction. Broken sections of tree limbs were laying on the roof of the house a good 100 feet away.

While walking back to go inside I flushed a mallard off of a nest she had built in amongst the ferns. Her nest was right outside of the fall zone. She was lucky that the tree missed her. In spite of her good fortune I knew it was highly likely her nest would be discovered and raided by the diligent prowling raccoons that are constantly moving up and down the valley.

Since we moved back to the creek house in October, I have been working on the house and the property resuming or completing old projects and restoring or repairing things that deteriorated while we were living in Toledo. Entropy is an amazing force and things fall apart.  Simple and ongoing maintenance is so important and this is readily apparent after being gone a few years.   

I've been spending considerable time thinking about this as I have been going about my tasks realizing that I have to look at this work as recreational activity. I am not doing it to survive or to  enhance the value of this property. Some projects are things that need to be completed before something gets worse but many are things that will enhance or enable me to do something else that I want to do. And being gone for just four and a half years has illustrated that I am not building some sort of lasting physical legacy here. All of this built infrastructure will ultimately pass just like the blast furnace that used to be across the creek. I remember a conversation that I had with my old friend Vance along time ago about how all things are transitory. And seemingly to prove the point this giant tree tipped over. 

It makes me melancholy to think about the tree falling over, getting cut and piled up by a bulldozer but it was a spectacular tree and it would have been a shame to simply let the wood rot. So I called an acquaintance who buys timber. The loggers are taking the tree apart as I write this piece.  

This living thing had survived for well over a century and in spite of its grandeur was still simply a part of a continuum.  It produced tons of acorns and probably has dozens of seedlings and saplings growing on the hillside. They will undoubtedly respond to the additional sunlight that will shine through the new hole in the tree canopy so in some regard there is a living legacy to this tree.  

Some of the wood will go to lumber that will be used for flooring and probably furniture and I hope that occasionally someone will consider how beautiful the wood is. The smaller limbs will be cut for firewood and burned in the barn and the branches will be chipped for mulch to enhance our yard and gardens. 

Humanity has the ability to some degree capture or create history, recording moments and events from the past. Yet on a personal and often a societal level we have the tendency to look at the world from the perspective of one lifetime. A lifetime a remarkably brief period especially when compared to the life of an oak tree. I suppose our perspective encourages us to value and pursue things that are indeed transitory and in the grand scheme of things meaningless. Perhaps this is why it is difficult to enjoy the richness of a moment while pursuing the folly of some temporary gain. 

I am working to adjust my thinking to enjoy what I am doing for the action that it is as opposed to anticipation of what the action might bring. Consequently I am finding a certain joy in doing them. This outlook is much healthier than feeling the drudgery of a backlog of projects or the stress of missed schedules. These tasks that I work on here in the valley are indeed transitory and I can't change that but I can change how I approach each day for like the oak tree someday I’m going to tip over.