Two Downed Trees

The snow hung around long enough this winter that I almost forgot what my neighborhood looked like before the snow started falling.

Gradually the snow melted. Gradually spring flowers bloomed and the grass turned green. Now the oaks are leafing out. Soon a layer of yellow-green oak pollen will overlay the dust on my car. (This spring has been very, very dry. I live on a dirt road. Every couple of days I hose off the rear window so I can see out of it.)

Oaks leafing out along Old County Road, May 17, 2015

Oaks leafing out along Old County Road, May 17, 2015

It’s almost as if the winter just past never happened.


Most of our snowstorms this past winter came with high winds. One of them toppled a slender birch across a path that Travvy and I often walk. The birch’s many small branches hung down like a curtain, blocking our way. Between the other trees and the heavy scrub on either side, there was no easy detour. Travvy could duck easily under the fallen tree. I had to crouch down and frog-walk through the branches. The branches often scraped the hat off my head.

Evidently other walkers were getting annoyed with the obstruction. One morning all the hanging branches had been trimmed from the trunk. Walking under was easier than walking through. My hat stayed on my head. I was grateful.

The fallen birch was still partly attached to its trunk. It began to leaf out along with its upright companions.

Downed birch leafs out, May 12, 2015.

Downed birch leafs out, May 12, 2015.

Fallen it might be, but it was still attached to its roots and thus to the earth. It lived.

Then one morning the path was clear. No birch.

Dying birch

Dying birch

Clear path, May 13, 2015

Clear path, May 13, 2015

In the summer of 2011 Hurricane Irene brought down a big oak near another path that Travvy and I often walk. I was so sure it was dead that I told a neighbor about it. He heats with wood and is always on the lookout for fuel. This particular downed tree, though, was not easily accessible by pickup, and transporting its logs would be no job for a wheelbarrow.

The following May, to my astonishment, the fallen oak leafed out. Like the birch, it was still partly attached to its trunk. Attached enough to keep it alive.

Downed oak, leafing out

Downed oak, leafing out

My recumbent oak leafed out in 2012, and again in 2013, and again in 2014. So glad I was that no one had turned it into firewood.

Severed trunk

Severed trunk

This spring there were no buds. Winter had sundered my oak from its trunk.

I think it was winter, not a woodsman. Those clean cuts were made three years ago, to clear a large branch off the trail. Could a person, or even two or three people, have separated tree from trunk and lifted it out of the way? Perhaps, but I’d rather believe it was the winter just past.

In a late March post, “Sunderings,” I blogged about people sundered from their roots, whether by war, economics, or some other nearly irresistible force. Every time I walked by it, my recumbent oak reminded me that even damaged roots can sustain life. The oak was lucky: when the hurricane brought it down, it fell alongside the path, not across it. The little birch was not so lucky: it blocked the way. I’m happy that the way is clear and sad that the birch will never leaf out again.



About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has two blogs going on WordPress. "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories" is about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard. "Write Through It" is about writing, editing, and how to keep going. She also manages the blogsite for the Women's Committee of We Stand Together / Estamos Todos Juntos, a civic engagement group on Martha's Vineyard.
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6 Responses to Two Downed Trees

  1. tompostpile says:

    In March we had 4.25″ of rain.
    In April we had 0.99″
    So far in May we have had 0.01″

    That’s dry. Really dry.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. susan robinson says:

    I think of my local plant learnings. The small bunched cacti that grow and flower out of solid rock, plus the trees that do. The former are perfectly formed, the latter sometimes in very unusual shapes. What we think of as ordinary required nutrition and ordinary natural shapes is too limited for the life force in these. We also have many trees on the mountains that are long dead except for one or a few branches that flower from the dead part as if no death had taken place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been watching a little patch of woods come back from a brush fire (just typed “brunch fire” — now there’s an idea) last June. The scrub oak and other undergrowth seem thicker than they were before the fire burned them all away, but the scorch marks on the oaks and pines still testify to what went on and how bad it could have been. Images, images everywhere — it’s a wonder we aren’t all poets or thinkers or wonderers about what’s going on a stone’s throw from our walking feet.


  3. susan robinson says:

    Moving. Not only can we live with damaged roots, I like to think the trees don’t feel sorry for themselves at all or defined primarily by their hurt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They keep getting on with whatever they’re supposed to be getting on with. Damaged roots can sustain life — I had to look closely to see how the oak’s long trunk was still connected to its stump. But after it was completely disconnected — no life. And the recumbent oak couldn’t go somewhere else and put down new roots.


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