Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Tree That Used to Be: Redux

In 2001 when we bought the property that would become Aspen Meadows, a tall pine tree stood in the corner of the property, near the spot where we built the house.  By the time we started building, in 2002, the tree was dead; a casualty of bark beetles.  We had the tree cut down, leaving the stump which came to be known as "the tree that used to be."

Fast forward to 2013 when we moved to Oak Creek Ranch.  There were two beautiful valley oaks framing the front of the house.

One of the first things we did was have an arborist come out and assess the health of the trees.  He told us that the tree on the left, the larger one, was between 400 and 500 years old.  Other trees on the property, including the one on the right, were more like 250-300 years old.  He said that the trees looked healthy but he recommended trimming up the two trees in front of the house to remove dead limbs and balance the trees.  It would only cost us $5,000.  We declined.  We had many more pressing needs and trimming a healthy tree for cosmetic reasons didn't rank very high on the list.

The tree had a swing and Brett built a brick platform for a small bench under its branches.  We enjoyed sitting there in the summer with a glass of wine.

The kids enjoyed the swing.  It was a good place for photos.
Kyle and his girlfriend, Ana, with Kersey

In the winter, the tree was particularly stunning, with snow outlining its twisting branches.

Did we love this tree?  Oh, yes, we did.  Of the hundred or more trees on our property, this was the easy favorite.

Last night as I relaxed on the couch with my computer and Brett watched football in the front room, I heard a creaking and groaning.  Initially, I thought we were experiencing an earthquake because the sound was the same.  But, as the sound reached a crescendo, I realized that the house wasn't shaking.  Kersey looked at me from her bed, and we both froze, as a loud crack and crash reverberated through the house.  I knew it was the tree.  I opened the side door and looked out but the night was pitch black and I couldn't see two feet from the edge of the patio, much less all the way across the front lawn to the tree.  Brett grabbed a flashlight, shrugged into his raincoat, slipped on his boots and sloshed out to have a look.  The tree had fallen across the stream, smashing the new pasture fence.

This was a valley oak, trees which thrive in a habitat that experiences regular flooding.  Coming out of a long drought had, no doubt, weakened its root structure.  There are oak trees toppling all over the Sierra foothills for the same reason.  When the rains did come, and the ground became saturated, the root structure was not strong enough to hold on.

I said, "Thank God it didn't fall towards the house."  Brett nodded.  He would have been sitting in the path of the fall.  Then I added, "and good that the horses are in the barn and not in the pasture."  And finally, "we will have firewood for the rest of our lives."

When the initial adrenaline left our systems, we were both drained and a bit nauseous.  Although we are sad about losing the tree, we are thankful that the tree fell where it did.  It could have been so much worse.

This morning, we got a better look at the damage.  The bench was tossed and its brick patio scattered.

The swing lay on the ground, still tied to its limb, but now limp and quiet on the grass.

We will miss this tree; but we will continue to enjoy it -- in the form of warmth coming from our wood stove.


  1. So very sad to lose such a grand old oak...but as is usually the case, all sorts of other blessings can be found. You'll be thankful for that beautiful old tree when it's keeping you warm for years to come.

    1. I think Brett will be getting a log splitter for Christmas this year...

  2. So sad to see it fall but you were so very lucky!

  3. But my new fence took a direct hit. One rail broke, two came off the post intact, and the posts didn't budge. Sixty feet of old fencing next to it all came down. On a positive note, I can now wood carve the trunk, (which is 4' in diameter) with my chain saw, and have a beautiful wood bridge across the stream. A little over kill though!

  4. I appreciate that you always look to the bright side. That's all you can do after something like that. Thank goodness, everyone is safe and you will have lots of firewood and good memories!!

    1. As you well know, ranch life is one challenge after the next. Its best to keep your chin up and get on with it...

  5. I too have two beautiful old oak trees and I will be very sad if one should pass. I can imagine how you feel. I am pleased that it didn't do more damage.

  6. Oh, how sad :( I love big, ancient trees that look like they could tell you the history of the world around them. I'm glad it fell away from the house, but this is so so sad.

  7. If that tree could tell us its life, what a story that would be.

  8. An American in TokyoJanuary 10, 2017 at 12:20 AM

    Omigosh!! So very lucky that no one got hurt!!
    I feel sorry for the tree, but I'm sure you did everything you could to keep it healthy. Unfortunately, we cannot control the weather.


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