I stared at an old oak tree all summer, through the barn doors of the farm where I worked. Many of the people who came to the farm loved this oak tree very much, and would come in to the barn to complain to me about the other people who came to the farm who didn’t love the oak tree. The people in the latter group would carelessly park their cars close to the tree, bringing their 2-ton vehicles to a stop on the roots of the tree itself.
Finally, in response to a rising chorus of complaints, an area around the tree was cordoned off, keeping vehicles at a safe distance. This was not enough, however, for the advocates of the tree, who felt that the cordoned-off area should be larger, wider – of greater girth. They felt that even picnickers lingering under the tree posed a sort of threat, sending a message that it was okay for people to be near the tree. One thing might lead to another.
One very hot summer day in the barn, a lady was discussing the plight of the tree with me in animated fashion. She told me that the roots of the tree could never be protected to the extent necessary. These roots, she said, probably extend all the way to the border of New Hampshire, 20 miles away. This gnarled network contains, in a sense, the very lifeblood of New England.
I tried to look sympathetic in the face of her passion, but didn’t know quite what to say. I’m from Ohio, from the agricultural center of the state. We cut down our trees 200 years ago and haven’t looked back. I had never, until last summer, seen a tree with a rope fence around it. At that point I was not really capable of carrying a conversation about the extensive networks of tree roots. I could say, however, with perfect equanimity, both to this lady and to all the people coming to the farm, that the old oak tree is, in fact, very beautiful. I could say that I wished it well. I could say that if the tree dies before I do, I will mourn its passing.