It must have been a big machine that cut down the grandmother pine tree. I found no disturbance around the stump when I climbed up to it to offer my grief and respect. The weeds and small brush nearby were there as before, with only fresh wood shavings and pine sap falling over the edges of the stump. Nothing huge crashed to the ground when they took her. So it must have been a big machine.
I discovered her absence on my walk near Capisic Brook the day before, but didn’t have the strength to approach her while there were lots of workmen in the Rowe school construction zone nearby. Ironically, they were making a children’s playground, spreading wood chips and such–perhaps that was that her wood they were using? But why?
I met this tree last winter when I was measuring old white pines around my neighborhood, after I discovered that our white pine was definitely over 100 years old, and perhaps even 160 years, according to her circumference. At that time, I was also mourning all the cut pines for the construction of the new elementary school. I found this pine with a yellow tape around her trunk. She was one hundred and two inches in circumference, just like the white pine in our yard. That is when I knew she was one of the grandmother trees. I made an inquiry on the school’s Facebook page, but the person who responded didn’t know about the situation of the tree.
And now the white pine is gone. I went to the place where she had stood, and expressed my sadness, and I did the best I could to honor her. I counted her rings, making small markings after each 25. (You can see those marks if you look very closely at the photo above.) I got to 100, and then the outer rings were too difficult to see clearly–but I guess there were at least 20 more–so 120 years old? Maybe even 130? That would mean she was likely a small sapling in the year 1897 when both of my grandmothers were born. She observed a century of animal and human life from her vantage point above the brook.
People in U.S. society are still thinking of trees merely as resources for our needs and wants. But we have to begin opening our minds to the idea that the trees have their own lives, their own being-ness. Scholars are learning that the forest is a living community of trees and other plants and animals and fungi, all interconnected in a network underground, supporting each other and all of life.
Recently, I had a chance to read The Overstory by Richard Powers. The novel tells the story of several people, all with some significant connection to a tree or trees, who come together to protect old growth forests in the northwest United States. Powers borrows from actual science and activism in telling his fictionalized version. I especially loved the character of the woman botanist whose research suggested that trees were communicating and caring for each other. Because of that hypothesis, she lost all her funding and academic connections. Eventually she found her way into work as a forest ranger, until decades later when other scientists caught up with her insights. Two other characters spend a year living in one of the oldest redwoods, to try to protect it from the logging company.
Of course, the forest between the Rowe School (formerly Hall School) and Capisic Brook is already badly degraded. It is not old growth or pristine. It is encroached upon by invasive plants and runoff pollutants. But it is still a living system, a wetland, a wild community in the midst of city streets and buildings. And so I walk along its path, I cherish it, I pick up litter. I try to bear witness.