The Decline of Grandfather Oak

decayed tree–

Across the ravine, between glints of sunlight and weaving among lines of vertical trunks, a single leaf falls. Within a few seconds, another twists to the ground. As my eyes scan the space before me, I realize this is a slow, dripping shower, leaves falling like single golden drops in a green haze. It is not yet autumn, and the woods are still fully leaved, branches full of green fingers, yet these leaves begin a starry blanket for the rest that will, in a few weeks, follow.

Over the summer, some trees or huge branches from leaves have fallen. One has slid part way down the ravine head first, its roots in the air like clenched talons. Others have been caught mid-fall in the branches of still-vertical trees and their limbs hang like useless appendages, scratching at the earth. Everywhere around me, already half buried in crumpled brown leaves, are broken sticks, sheered of bark, gnarled clusters of twigs, most threaded with spider webs that materialize like dusty hammocks when the sun catches their strands.

When we first moved to this property, my four children, the oldest of whom was only eleven, dubbed one of the dying trees on the slope Grandfather Oak, their private version of Grandmother Willow, who speaks in Pocahontas. At that time, its huge trunk was mostly hollow, a rotting shell shorn of most of its upper branches, a storage space for squirrel hordes and a cubby hole into which a single child could squeeze. Years ago, it tipped under its own decomposing weight and fell shattered on its side. It became the roof to a chipmunk colony which I watched during my sabbatical, fascinated by their scurrying chases around the log, their headlong dives into unseen burrows under the crumbling mold.

Now, only shards of black trunk remain to mark the spot where my children once played. The woods has absorbed it into its skin, has nearly healed the wound created by its falling. Only this dark scab remains, and in a few years perhaps i will forget even the memories that once were erect in my mind.

I am already aging. I imagine my head swathed in grey strands of cobweb, filaments muddling my mind. Though the woods are vibrant with more shades of green than Pantone could ever envision, still all I can see today is the broken, the falling, the once-living things that have lost their grip on solidity.

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2 Responses to The Decline of Grandfather Oak

  1. “You are no ruin—no lightning-struck tree: you are green and vigorous. Plants will grow about your roots, whether you ask them or not, because they take delight in your bountiful shadow; and as they grow they will lean towards you, and wind round you, because your strength offers them so safe a prop.” —Jane Eyre

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