I called the Calvin Street Oak “my tree” because it was in my front yard, and because I knew and loved it during the five and one half years I was privileged to live under its beautiful canopy. But it was everyone’s tree. One of my favorite things was sitting on my front porch and watching people walk by. Of course they would look up and marvel. How could you not? It was a huge, magnificent, ancient tree. It’s trunk was 27 feet around. It threw off your sense of scale and reminded you what it was like to be a child when everything in the world was big. And then they would look over at me, visibly transformed by their encounter, and allow me to share in a neighborly conversation invested with an unusually high quotient of wonder. I will miss those conversations, and I will miss this tree like I would a friend.
You could say that Hurricane Florence brought it down, but that really wasn’t how it happened. This oak tree chose when and how to leave the spot it stood for 250 years. The light gusts that started on Friday morning when Florence touched the Triangle—ones I barely noticed on my way to yoga that morning—were part of a conversation between tree and wind, the answer to a request for assistance. Thank you, my friend, for waiting until after I left. It would have been hard for me to see and hear you go. Thank you for falling away from the house, for falling so gently that you didn’t even knock over the rock cairn Rachel had just built right next to you. Thank you for not hurting anyone. Thank you for leaving on your terms. For leaving with the same dignity with which you lived your long and mysterious life.
Before there was an old oak there was a mature oak. Before there was a mature oak there was a young oak. Before the young oak was an acorn. And before the acorn there was energy as potential, an idea of something that could be.
What would it be like to sit in the same place for two and a half centuries? To cultivate a perspective and a level of patient watchfulness under which a whole town, a whole country could grow up around you? To support untold numbers of beings of countless species as they are born, grow up, live and die or move on? What would it be like to aspire upward from a trunk 27 feet around, lifting branches themselves the size of mature trees high up into the sky? What would it be like to know the subtlety of half a million leaves tuned to infinitesimal gradations of light and wind? I’ve been all over this state hiking, and each time I returned I would marvel that although I saw many amazing trees, the most magnificent one of all was right in my front yard.
I was always curious how tall you were. The Hillsborough Treasure Tree website, which singled you out for the grandeur of your large spreading limbs, said you were “at least 70 feet.” That estimate always seemed overly cautious to me. So after the workers removed your trunk and main limbs, but before the smaller branches had been taken away, I saw my chance to find a number. In the field across the street, I found the end of your top-most branch, sitting there right where it fell. I pointed myself toward your trunk and began to walk, one foot in front of the other, heel to toe, balancing like a tight-rope walker until I found myself looking upward into the sky in a spot where, if you had still been there, I could have leaned in and pressed myself against you. 111 steps. I went inside and measured my left foot. 11 inches. I measured my right foot. Exactly 11 inches. I’m not a math whiz, but I calculated that’s 101.75 feet.
Now the place where you stood is strikingly empty. Now there is pure potential once again where once there was the fullness of all things oak tree. Now there is a certain set of inclinations, a certain bent of curiosity, that wouldn’t have been possible before all that you were had been seen, felt, experienced, known. A quantum wire somewhere in the universe is vibrating. The energy in the ether is palpable. There’s the smell of ozone in the air like after a storm. And I can’t wait to see what you choose to become next.