The Falling of Age
A guest blog post by Karen Ott Mayer.
I picked up the phone and heard my husband’s voice.
“Your tree fell.”
It was evening before I made it back to the farm where we both walked down the hillside into the stand of red oaks to see the latest casualty on the ground. Leaning more with each passing wind or storm, my tree at one point held a 45-degree angle, waiting only on time. We walked the length of it. Unlike other oaks with massive canopies, this one had a long trunk until the first branches split. We found a tape measure and started walking. From the base to the first branches, we measured 40 feet.
“I can’t chop this one up into firewood,” I said.
Ever hunting projects that stretch our minds and reasonableness, we decided to mill the tree. Thanks to an old acquaintance who had recently bought a portable mill, we found ourselves in short order watching him move and cut the tree. The machinery wrought stacks of boards, beams and slabs over a few days, leaving us with a stump and a dent in our checkbook.
To see the wood, however, took me back years, when I was more interested in buying Italian shoes. When a cherry tree fell in my parent’s front yard, my brother hauled it off to the mill and then built furniture from it. Only when he brought my cherry desk and nightstand he made, did it all begin to mean something.
Over the years, I have watched nearly a dozen giant oaks hit the ground on this farm. Last year, two casualties nearly broke my spirit. A white oak at the back west fence line grew to a massive size in a ditch. And then split and fell, opening the blue sky above us so wide we felt naked. We held a wood-splitting party in late spring, building a fire and having lunch. My parents parked chairs and watched as friends and hired hands cut and stacked the oak’s wood. After two days, only the canopy was gone. The massive trunk and base still rested on its side, perhaps to be left for nature’s hand.
My neighbor asked recently, “What made you decide to clear your back hillside?”
I laughed. “Nature’s choice, not mine.”
Part of living for years at one place involves an intimate passing of time. I have friends who can point to towering cypress trees ringing lakes that they planted 50 years ago. I have watched a single river birch I planted 15 years ago slowly thicken like an old woman’s waist.
The changing of seasons reminds me of the gentle goings-away of time when the falling of trees and building of roads means we are only a chapter or verse in eternity’s book and as fleeting as scampering leaves in fall. Is it sad? Sometimes. It is also honest and true, like a red oak that once stood straight and tall and proud on a Mississippi hill.
Karen Ott Mayer writes from Moon Hollow Farm, located among towering trees in north Mississippi’s Hill Country.