Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Honoring The Old Ones

In the world of trees, this past year has been a giant-killer. In Amsterdam, the iconic chestnut tree that young Anne Frank gazed out upon from her attic window during World War II was toppled by a storm. Hurricane Irene brought down a 220-year-old tree that had stood over John F. Kennedy's gravesite  for almost half a century. Even "movie" trees took a hit, as the grand old oak that was seen in a closing scene of the film, Shawshank Redemption, was split in half by yet another storm.

Each year, tens of thousands of people travel great distances to visit historical trees. These Old Ones can hold special meaning to people who might not otherwise consider themselves to be sentimental. And if you stop to think about it, that stands to reason.

The tree that stood over JFK's grave, for instance, was a young sapling when George Washington and our other founding fathers were old men. It had grown to maturity by the time the country was nearly torn apart by the Civil War and the Virginia estate where it stood became Arlington National Cemetery. As the 20th Century rolled through war after war, the tree added 100 more rings as thousands of soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen arrived at their final resting places.

And then, as suddenly as a lightning bolt, the tree was gone.

The Survivor Tree
Oklahoma City National Memorial
Many Old Ones, such as Anne Frank's much beloved chestnut, fall to extreme-weather events because they were already in failing health. Still others get a new lease on life with well-deserved special care—the Survivor Tree at the Oklahoma City National Memorial is an example.

Defoliated, broken, and badly charred by the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995, the century-old American elm has been lovingly nurtured back to robust health by a team of dedicated state foresters. Today, the Survivor Tree casts a giant shadow, both physically and in a spiritual sense. When I first stood beneath its broad boughs, I couldn't help but feel humbled by this grand symbol of quiet endurance and strength.

Whether they are in the public domain or grow in your own landscape, Old Ones have earned the right to special care. The big oak in my back yard has been carefully manicured by a certified arborist. When its roots were damaged a few years ago, it received additional treatment that could keep it thriving despite last summer's deadly heatwave and drought.

As a property owner, I have become the designated steward of my Old One's life. It is a responsibility that I don't take lightly.

Do you know of an Old One in your community...or your own backyard? I would love to hear about it.

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