Fallen Oak

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Sometimes gravity can be overwhelming to a tree.

old oak tree in summer

Gravity can be hard on people too, but today I’m talking about the larger of those two oak trees whose trunks are shown here, in summer, just beyond the roses and the board fence.

Yesterday the tree on the right fell over.

It’s one of our giant old native Oregon oaks. There are only maybe two more of this age surviving still on our small bit of land. I counted the rings on a fallen one once– about 360 years, and this one will be like that too.  A wise old plant, gone on to be born again, I hope, as a dolphin or a dancer or something else that has a good time and gets to move around a lot.

fallen oakThis tree gone horizontal wasn’t a surprise really. We’ve had a good deal of wind and rain, and the roots, like much of the tree’s interior, looked to be failing. Other people might have cut it down, but it did grow beautiful leaves every summer, and really it seemed it might outlive us in the end. (Okay sometimes we call our place the Home For Geriatric Oak Trees.)

It fell east, as we knew it would, since the limbs were weighted that way. It was away from my house and across the rather wild garden where I grow native plants and trees. At the far side it smashed the woven wire fence that keeps the neighbor’s sheep out, so Mr O and I did some long cold hours cutting branches and repairing the fence last night, right up until dark. We came inside then, both of us moaning about how hard that was, and had a very late but welcome dinner. (Please do not feel compelled to mention the work that awaits us in dealing with the tons of wood to be cut and managed–I really don’t want to think about that right now.)

broken oak base

When it fell the big tree’s vast trunk came to rest on a path I had made, and missed hitting almost every tree and shrub. One young maple was broken, but two similar ones survived, as well as several delicate young fir trees, the Oceanspray shrub, all the cedars, a lilac, a vine maple, native birches… I was so grateful that the old oak took care to skirt these other plants. It was really a kind of miracle, because there were some very big limbs down in addition to the trunk.

fallen oak treeTwo little fir trees survived unscathed with a huge limb fallen between them. Here is an image of one –

lucky fir tree

–and the other.

Douglas fir

The tree also kindly did not fall on Max.

Max and the fallen oak

He was outside alone during the event, in the vicinity of the oak. I was outside too, but on the other side of the house. I heard  him barking– I think the tree might have been making noises, cracking slowly, as it went into the fall. Then came the terrible sound of it hitting the earth, and still Max was barking.

So I thank this tree, for the summers of shade, which we and the garden beds below will miss, and for reclining to the earth in such a graceful and careful way, sparing more other life than I had any reason to hope for.

Here is another old image of the oak, from last year. The tree did have huge limbs, up in the sky, but at people level it was a column.

oak tree It makes me want to plant more trees.


About linniew

Unpublished novelist seeks therapy in gardening. Westie assists.
This entry was posted in actual plants, Max the Westie, Pacific Northwest native plants, trees and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to Fallen Oak

  1. Kate says:

    Our biggest, oldest oak came down this year too. I’m still heartbroken and the empty spot it left in the Western view will never seem right. Isn’t it an honor to see the last days of a tree that was alive before the first Europeans set foot here? How kind the old soul to keep everyone below safe. And what a miracle too.

    • linniew says:

      Oh Kate, you understand too. I find myself walking by that tree, where it lies in my garden like a beached whale, and I pat him and thank him and feel sad. He was a great tree and will certainly be missed all my days.

  2. Oh no!!! love that first shot of your garden!

  3. Bridget Foy says:

    So sad when we lose old friends but as with people and animals time does heal. On a positive note there’s a lot of firewood in that ol tree. That first shot of your garden is lovely.

    • linniew says:

      Oh yes, we go forward Bridget. Sometimes Mr O is compelled to make lumber of trees–some years ago a younger lost oak was milled into boards that became our lovely bathroom floor. But this tree is not sound enough for lumber I expect, so it will go to keeping us cozy in future winters.

  4. What a lovely eulogy on the loss of a gracious friend.

  5. Alberto says:

    I hope Bridget doesn’t see in a positive way a lot of stew when she looses a friend then… 🙂

    Before I finished reading the post I had in mind what could the trunk possibly had damaged in falling. Then I read my beloved oceanspray is safe, phew! And then I learned about Max… din’t you have an heart attack? I would!

    All the Venice region used to be a wide woodland in the past, there were mainly oaks. Now we have only a little left from the originals, the oldest is about 500yrs. In some places (like near to where I live) they are trying to recreate the woodland there used to be. I think planting new trees is the right cure to heal your loss.

    • linniew says:

      Silly Alberto. Forgive him, Bridget.

      Yes I was panicked about Max. I expect if I had been with him we would have both been flattened by me trying to get him out of the way, so really it was best that his survival instincts were in charge.

      I have 3 or 4 little evergreen trees in pots, ones I bought a couple years ago and couldn’t decide how to locate. So I may plant them out there. We have maples volunteer in the garden beds so there is never a shortage of those to move… All oak seedlings are nurtured, but they do grow slowly. I am pleased to think of ancient oaks growing around Venice –and that they are cherished. –Thanks Alberto.

  6. Chad B says:

    I enjoyed reading this story and was glad that there was a happy ending to it – or at least that there wasn’t a terrible ending.

  7. Nell Jean says:

    Glad it fell in a way to save the most important features including your house and dog. They have a saying here about ancient live oaks: a hundred years growing, a hundred years living and a hundred years dying. We’ve lost a live oak, a post oak and a pecan in the past 10 or so years. It changes the face of the garden in an instant.

    • linniew says:

      Quite right about the huge change Nell Jean. We are driven inside with cold rain this week, but when it’s time to be outside again then we will truly miss that old tree.

  8. b-a-g says:

    Sorry to hear about your beloved tree. We lost the family apple tree last year and I still feel sad when I see the stump.

    Was it the same tree that’s in your header ? I’ve never seen trees covered in moss like that.

    • linniew says:

      I think I recall your posting about that apple tree b-a-g. Stumps are sad, in general. The tree in the header picture is another, younger oak tree not far from the one that fell. I love the moss and the ferns that grow on the limbs.

  9. Roberta says:

    I feel for your loss. Other than keeping me grounded, gravity has been hard on me too. Your tree was beautiful in its fancy green moss attire and very handsome as a column. You can see its strength in the column photo. I’m glad to hear that Max escaped with all four feet and noggin intact.

  10. Grace says:

    What a sad turn of events. Oregon’s late-winter winds claim another victim. Darn it anyway.

    Knowing you, Linnie girl, you’ve spent time musing about this m/patriarch of the plant kingdom. Like, who was president when it was born and how old was it when the Columbus Day storm battered its branches. It’s always sad when a tree loses its grip. I’m sure you’ll be planting something new in short order and someday, many, many years from now, a gardener not unlike yourself will muse about its life.

    • linniew says:

      Oh I like that Gracie, some future gardener pondering my little trees as they grow old! This is meaningful as the ancient tree lies dead and I await the birth of a grandbaby. The great circle. Ain’t life grand?

  11. Our oak tree is a mere seedling by comparison; it can’t be more than 60-70 years old, since before that the entire area where our garden is used to be meadow pasture for cows…

    Old oaks are beautiful, though, and there are some excellent specimens in the forest by our summerhouse, including the sad remains of a 1500-2000 year old oak known as the King’s Oak. I could imagine that a big trunk like yours would be daunting to take on, so at least it’s good that no people, animals or plants (of note) were damaged, beside of course the tree itself.

    • linniew says:

      The King’s Oak is truly ancient! You describe it now as ‘remains’ so I wonder how long it actually lived. 1500 years makes me think of redwood trees…We have tried hard to cultivate new oaks here, and they are not easily grown. Our native ones have an annoying habit of growing for a few years then dying back to the ground and starting over. (I wrote about that some in a previous post on trees.) Do you post pictures of your summerhouse Søren? I’ve always wanted a summerhouse.

      • My very first post has perhaps the best – and most evocative – picture of the house: http://flaneurgardening.com/2010/06/09/a-little-plot-of-land/
        (Mind you, having a summerhouse, an apartment in Copenhagen – or rather two, as I’m letting out my old apartment – AND an apartment in Aberdeen, Scotland, becomes rather a lot of work. I look forward to my husband moving from Aberdeen and my old apartment being sold, since that will leave us with only two homes to maintain. And no landlord duties…)

        The King’s Oak was alive, albeit ailing, up to the 1980’s as far as I know. Though it was already in a rather ruinous state when it first gained fame during the National Romanticism of the 19th century… So it has lived a long life, and it is suspected that the only reason it survived the big ship-building frenzy in the 17th century was because it was too old and gnarled. (And the size too daunting; it was never a very tall tree, but it’s circumference is around 14 meters.) It’s a national treasure in its own right, even dead and decaying as it is. It will soon be gone, though; in 50 years it might just be a pile of mulch in a clearing in the forest.

        • linniew says:

          I see we have different ideas for the term “summer house” Søren! I think of an open structure, more like a gazebo with maybe columns and a roof but vines growing up and all open on the sides, with a swing inside or benches or wicker, a place to nap and read but open to the weather, maybe kind of a bower with a built structure supporting in… Your summer house is a real house in the country. It must be lovely to go there and escape the city in the spring and summer.

          In 50 years we may all be mulch like the King’s Oak in Denmark. Here is a site with a photo of what remains of that remarkable tree– on a blog called A Polar Bear’s Tale.

          • “Holiday home” or “house in the country” just sounds a bit grand, so I’m using a direct translation of the Danish term. 😉 The original structure was just around 4 x 8 meters, so a very small house with no bathroom or toilet, and though previous owners have fixed that it’s still quite basic (though not primitive).

            But yes, it’s a lovely escape from the apartment – spring, summer, autumn, winter; whenever! – and it gives me the chance to finally have a garden! I’d kind of given up on that childhood dream when my husband suddenly started fantasising about buying a summer house! (It’s one of the best thing he’s ever bought me… Right up there with our apartment and my wedding band!)

            The three old oak trees in the forest nearby are probably the most famous sights in the neck of the woods, far outshining the dozen bronze age burial mounds that litter the forest or the 12th century (though continuously updated) royal hunting palace I pass on the bus up here. I like that something as simple as an old tree can become a “sight” that people go on outings to visit. It takes about an hour to walk from my garden to the King’s Oak, and a total of three hours if you want to take in all three ancient oaks (some not alive at all any more, yet still impressive).

  12. That’s an amazing tree and surely one to mourn but couldn’t you leave the lovely moss covered trunk in your garden—it looks beautiful. We did this with an old willow tree that came down and we haven’t regretted it. Adds charm and age and interest. Prince Charles has a stumpery and it is time to start yours.

    • linniew says:

      You know, this idea had sort of been in my unconscious mind, something to address later as we cleaned up the collapsed tree…I hugely appreciate your suggesting it so I can think it out a bit. I know I can’t keep the whole log since it blocks the entire end of the garden area, but it would be great to keep a length of it somehow. There isn’t really a stump as such since the tree roots broke, but the log is indeed mossy and amazing. I often leave fallen limbs in this area, good for the woodland plants below. Thanks Carolyn! I’ll look for online images of Prince Charles’ stumpery.

  13. Roberta says:

    Linnie, a stumpery! I love the idea! Good suggestion, Carolyn.

    • linniew says:

      We all agree then– I must keep some of this tree in the garden!

      • Keep some in the garden, and maybe see if a local craftsman can make some garden furniture out of the rest? There is definitely potential for a simple bench, carved into the trunk, but it could also be cut into planks and used for more conventional garden furniture. We have a bench and a coffee table in our garden where the seat and table-top are whole planks of oak, and it weathers beautifully if you can live with a rustic look… Maybe a nice idea for your yet-unbuilt summerhouse/gazebo/arbour?

        • linniew says:

          My local craftsman is Mr O. I fear the log may not be sound enough to make boards but we will see. Some part of it must be used in some way in the garden where it grew.

  14. Alistair says:

    Aw, that is a shame, glad Max or no one else came to harm. I do hope you checked to see if, er! whats her name again? didn’t get injured.

    • linniew says:

      No worries, Tillie is fine. She tends to spend the winter inside. Sometimes she hides in the attic and I only know she is here by the empty wine bottles and chocolate wrappers that appear on the landing.

  15. Linnie, I’ve nominated your wonderful blog for a Kreativ Blogger Award.

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