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?