It was time this week to say goodbye to an old friend. And to reflect on the grace notes from Papa God that enabled this precious 30-year friendship to exist in the first place.
When we were house-hunting three decades ago, the first thing I saw when we peeked into the neglected backyard of one interesting buying possibility was an enormous oak tree close to the house, nearly swallowed up in thick, jungle-like undergrowth and dense hanging vines (this is, after all, Florida). I felt like I’d walked into the movie set of Tarzan.
As it turned out, we did buy that house (another amazing grace note for a different time!) and didn’t have a clue where our property lines were until we hacked a trail through the jungle back there with an actual machete. No kiddin’. A machete. Just like in the Tarzan movies. I totally expected Cheeta to come crashing through the vines astride an elephant at any minute.
After much hard labor clearing the half-acre – and a little unexpected exercise running for our lives when a huge swarm of ground hornets erupted from their hidden nest like an angry geyser – the focal point of our now-usable, fun backyard became the beautiful, mature oak tree at its center. We all enjoyed the rope swing tied onto Woody (supposedly for the kids, then ages 6 and 9) and placed a picnic table beneath its canopy of branches for many happy outdoor get-togethers with friends, neighbors, and mosquitoes. Dozens of birds built nests in Woody’s branches and baby squirrels scampered up and down its trunk every spring.
About five years later, I noticed blood dripping from a wound just below the first large “V” in Woody’s trunk. Well, it looked like blood, but it was thick, black, sticky sap that gradually turned into a flowing stream. How had that happened? When had that happened? I had no idea. An arborist made a house call and said my friend Woody was sick. And worst of all, it was a laurel oak (also called water oak), with a life expectancy of only 50-60 years (as opposed to live oaks that can last up to 200 years). He estimated Woody was already at least 40-years-old when we moved in.
The arborist said he couldn’t predict whether Woody would remain standing one more year or ten. But either way, because one arm of Woody’s enormous “V” trunk division was pointing directly toward our house (and only about 15 feet away), he recommended that we cut the tree down.
No. No. No. I just couldn’t do it. Woody may have merely been wood, but he was my friend. (In case you didn’t notice, this was when Woody became “he” instead of “it” to me.)
Hey, when my friends get sick, I pray for them. You do too, right?
So I got into the habit of going out day after day, laying hands on Woody, and earnestly praying for him. Got a few strange looks from the neighbors, but believe it or not, Papa God, who cares about ALL living things He lovingly created, healed that tree.
Yep. Within three months, Woody stopped bleeding. His wound scabbed over and he kept putting out new growth, stalwart and strong as ever a tree could be – stable as a rock cliff even during numerous hurricanes – for the next 25 years.
My two now-grown kids have been replaced by five grandkids who spend hours swinging on that same rope swing and playing beneath Woody’s leafy limbs that spread for what seems like miles.
Fast forward to one month ago. The arborist (who was there to check another tree) said he couldn’t believe Woody was still there. He had a hard time buying my story about Papa God healing his bloody discharge and disease, but he couldn’t deny the fact that Woody still towered above our house, faithfully guarding the rear flanks of his loved ones inside like a sentinel.
But this time the arborist was even more emphatic. It was time. Past time. He showed us stress fractures up and down the massive trunk that indicated weakening core strength. Woody had already outlived his life expectancy by two decades; if we chanced it through another hurricane season, we’d most likely be getting a visit from Woody up close and personal inside the house.
This horrible falling tree nightmare had just happened to my neighbor last fall (and their roof/house is STILL not repaired), so we knew we didn’t want to go there.
It was obvious what was the responsible thing to do. Dang. I hate being the grownup and being forced into making decisions you just don’t want to make, don’t you?
It happened three days ago. I had to leave the house. I couldn’t watch. Six heavy trucks, one with a super-extending bucket, lumbered into our backyard and flattened all my carefully tended landscaping. Which is probably just as well because all my bright, gorgeous impatiens that thrived beneath Woody’s canopy of shade will be sun-seared when he’s gone anyway.
Then they dismantled Woody piece by enormous piece and carried him away.
I cried over my friend. I’m talking big, gulping, ugly crying. I mourned his loss. I miss him already.
But then I begin to remember all the fond, happy memories that Woody so selflessly provided for my family for two generations. And I mop up my tears and almost smile. Almost. I think it’ll be a while.
Can you relate, dear BFF (Blessed Friend Forever)? When have you had to say goodbye to a friend like Woody?
Oh Deb, I can so relate. When we moved into our 111 year old house 9 years ago it was surrounded by 2 enormous beech trees and an ancient oak. You could reach out the window and touch the oak it was so close to the house. When we moved in, our new neighbors all came to say hello and then the very next thing out of everyones’ mouth was “Can we talk about the oak?” It had dropped limbs and taken out the transformer for the block (which is in our backyard…) several time apparently. A tree lover, I was in no way going to let that beauty go. We could save it!
That next summer, after a storm I found a piece of limb about as big around as my wrist imbedded in my daughter’s Little Tykes red wagon. If you’ve ever seen/used one of those, you know it’s indestructible. Or so I thought. A huge piece of the seat had gone flying across the driveway and the branch had gone through the seat and out the bottom of the wagon. Must have come from 50 feet up. All I could think was Thank you Lord that it wasn’t a person!
We called to have the tree taken down and I came home at lunchtime to check on the progress. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the tree. What had we done?! I Cried . A lot. The tree guys thought I was nuts.
I got home that night after dark and my wonderful husband met me. He asked me what was wrong and I sobbed that we’d killed this tree that had been around since the Civil War and how much it had witnessed and , and, and.
He gave me a flashlight and told me to be careful but to go look at the stump. It was all black and spongy- squishy. The tree was rotting from the bottom up and the top down. None of which could be seen from the outside.
It took the flat bed 2 trips to get all the logs out of the back yard. When I asked the guys, “So what did it weigh? Maybe 2 tons?” One of them looked at me with a gentle pity and if he could have patted me on the head I think he would have. “Oh Lady, EACH one of these logs weighs 2 tons. It was coming down and the way it had been badly pruned, it was going to slice your house in half.”
Ok, then. Guilt gone. Done. I still felt awful, but knew we’d made the right decision. Since then we’ve also lost the 2 beeches after attempts to save and revive them. All things have a life span and unfortunately, we came along at the end of the magnificent trees’. I am thankful and grateful that I was able to have them for the short time we did.
Yikes, Janine – your tree story makes me cringe. I get it – you know you did the only thing possible, but it still hurts. Like putting a beloved pet to sleep when he can no longer see, hear, or walk. Like you saw with your daughter’s skewered wagon, we witnessed the severe damage those crazy-heavy tree limb missiles can do to our neighbor’s house, much less a multi-ton trunk through the roof. It’s not pretty. Or cheap. Or quick to repair. I find your comment about everything having a life span by Papa God’s design to be strangely comforting. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us. Hugs!
Julie Blackmore says
Wow, your experience reminded me of The Giving Tree book…God blessed you with beautiful memories of family/friends…such wonderful cherished memories!
Exactly, Julie! I was this close to naming my blog post “My Giving Tree.” I’ve always loved that book too.
I think that having to pay so much money to have a great tree removed makes losing the tree twice as hard. We have not wanted to lose some of our wonderful Oak trees, but having to pay so much for something to be removed (against your will) is so painful! So sorry for you to lose Woody!! You will need to plant a younger “Woody” and watch him grow!
You are so right: It heaps misery upon misery to have to pay for something you DON’T want so vehemently. It hurts the soul. Your idea about replanting has merit but I don’t think we’ll be around long enough to see another oak gain any significant size. At least not a slow-growing live oak. We tried planting two fast-growing ornamental trees in place of the huge oak that went down in our front yard a few years ago, and one of them has already been hurricaned down.