It’s hard to believe, but it has been nearly two years since we bought our home “in the country.” Two of the many things we love about living in a rural part of a heavily agricultural county are that we are surrounded by nature and on clear nights there are fantastic views of the stars. In most parts of Chatham County you can still see the Milky Way.
On nights when we want to stargaze we hit the breaker box and kill all outside lights, then walk up a trail that heads to a clearing in the back of our pocket of woods. The trees near our house usually block the view, so the clearing offers a better vantage. Earlier this month there was a nearly moonless night and I got home late from my poetry critique group. No clouds, low humidity, and the lack of moonlight made the sky pop. Normally I’m distracted by toads and beetles when I walk to our house at night, but the sky between the leafless branches leveled me. I went inside and got my love and leashed up Ramsay and we headed to the back clearing. Orion and Pleiades shone in their obvious fashion, but the sky boasted dozens of other constellations that I cannot recognize without the help of an astronomer or my smartphone. It almost rivaled the stars we saw at Yosemite.
Back when we moved in, two tremendous white oaks near the house didn’t feel threatening. I love trees, their shade, their fall colors, and the wildlife they bring. Growing up, there was a huge maple in my parents’ front yard that was ‘my tree.’ A few years ago when I went to my parents’ house to visit, I noticed it was gone. I was sad I didn’t get to have a piece of it or one of its hundreds of annual saplings. I vowed I would never cut down such a beautiful tree if I ever had a house some day. Then these two oaks next to our home started to make me nervous over the summer. In my fruitless attempts at weeding I noticed the larger oak closest to the house was rotting away about halfway around the base. Just a few flicks of my fingers and rotten bark and wood would fall away like dirt. The other oak had several dead branches, but otherwise looked healthy. Before winter started I wanted to have someone look at them. In November, a tree service came and inspected both trees. Both had root rot, which cannot be treated. At some point, these trees would fall. If they did, they would total the house. So I had to break my vow and we scheduled their removal.
The tree service brought a crane and started working at sunrise and finished nearly an hour after sunset, with only a short break for lunch. I worked from the kitchen table all day, often distracted by the snow-like oak dust that fell and fell, the hootin’ and hollerin’ of the bearded lumberjack men, and the final sawing and falling of the bigger oak that happened at sunset. According to the tree service, both trees had “rotten hearts.” (See the hollow bit in the photo below.) They reassured me that even though it was sad to cut these two giants down (or as one woman in town likes to call them, ‘our tall friends’), we should feel good about keeping our home safe.
I didn’t want to let these trees pass without keeping a piece to honor them by. We noticed the tree service had chainsawed a thick slab of the larger oak’s base. We asked them to leave that aside. Eventually we’ll make a table out of it. I hope to keep it on our front deck where we now have no trouble seeing the stars.