When I was a girl, my grandfather would take me for long walks along the edges of the fields on his old farmstead. And every now and then, he’d stop to throw a chestnut or a walnut or an acorn into a gap in the hedge. At first I thought this was just some sort of strange grownup thing, like gesturing with the end of a pipe or combing thinning hair carefully over a bald spot. After a while, though, it dawned on me that it might be something more. So I asked Gramps why he did it. But all he said in reply was, “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”
I must have looked hugely puzzled by this oracular pronouncement, because Gramps immediately proffered an explanation, one tailored to the understanding of a girl of five: “An acorn is a seed. Next spring, a green shoot will grow from the acorn I just tossed over there. And if you come back here in two or three years you’ll see a little oak tree, and you’ll know that we planted that oak on our walk together. Which means it will always be our oak — yours and mine — and it will still be here long after we’re both gone.”
At the time, I couldn’t imagine a day when Gramps and I would be gone. So that part didn’t make much sense to me. But I liked the story of “our” tree so much that I repeated the same question endlessly, every time Gramps tossed a nut into a gap in the hedge. And Gramps never lost patience with me. Each time I asked, he simply repeated his answer, word for word, beginning with “Mighty oaks….” He never seemed to weary of it, and neither did I.
Which may explain why I feel a sharp pang whenever I see any venerable old tree cut down. And lately, this is happening a lot. Whatever the explanation — and it likely involves that all-too-familiar stew of greed and fear that lies behind so much human busyness these days — I seem to be living at the epicenter of a perfect storm of tree-cutting.
Here’s the latest victim. For years now, I’ve enjoyed looking at this majestic maple. It’s sheltered who knows how many birds, fed squirrels without number, and lifted the spirits of countless passers-by. And now? In a highly choreographed assault by a platoon of town workers and a corporal’s guard of hired saws, it’s been reduced to a four-foot diameter stump and a tumble of logs.
The maple lives on in my memory, of course, but no bird can find shelter there. Our shared world is now a much poorer place. I don’t imagine I have to tell you how that makes me feel.
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