On the day I went to see the Oak in question, my son, by happy (or perhaps sad) coincidence, put his finger on the word ‘dryad’ in a random flip of the dictionary in his mother’s classroom. Julian has been doing this most school mornings recently, in preparation for an upcoming spelling bee, but also in some familial acknowledgement of
the magic that sometimes happens with a random consultation of the oracle. Being of a fairy turn of mind, he was delighted. The dryad, or tree spirit and wood nymph, is well known to him and his twin brother, and at age twelve they both give it full and heart-felt credence. Further investigation would reveal that the dryad is particularly associated with the Oak, from whom, in Greek, she gets her name. How fitting, then, that the Oak in question was rooted into the campus of the Harvard Divinity School.
In over 35 years of professionally climbing and cutting trees I have seen many tree-versus-plan situations, and almost invariably it is the tree that loses. It seems that the world does not see trees the way children do. Show me a child who is not inconsolably upset that a big tree is being cut down and I will show you a child who is at emotional risk. Somewhere along the way, however, our hearts harden, and we lose our innocent childhood outrage at the desecration, accepting the good and necessary reasons given.
In this particular case, the reasons given were that the venerable old Oak, standing in the way of a multi-million-dollar expansion of Andover Hall, was not viable in the long run (“over mature,” in the words of one professional consultant), and perhaps more alarmingly, was a hazardous tree. The experts had been called in. They had used tree radar. Rot had been discovered and quantified. Almost overnight, a protective walkway was installed in recognition of the sudden peril. So, it always goes where the actuaries have been called in, and value has been computed down to the square inch. The trees rarely stand a chance. Maybe you could get a child to understand the planning concept of ‘best use’ and the concluding imperative for removal, especially in an area of high traffic and high value real estate, but only by stealing innocence along the way.
To my subjective but professional eye, it was, to use the more genteel phrase, pure poppycock. The tree was healthy, buds right out to the tips, and as structurally sound as any along the public thoroughfare not under $pecial $crutiny. As for rot, a hundred-year old tree that has none is a statistical improbability. The tree was in recovery from a past professional mauling, but the recovery was well under way. No reason to think it wouldn’t survive intact, nestled into
the protective shelter of the Hall, for many years, if left well alone. But the experts had been called, and the experts had weighed in, knowing full well the local politics involved, and the dollars at stake. It is, after all, just a tree.
What, after all, is the value of a single tree, however old and beautiful, in light of extensive plans already made and paid for? There is, perhaps, no rational or exact answer to this question, but there is another much deeper question left unanswered. What would it mean to spare a hundred year old tree on a campus dedicated, not only to spiritual reflection and deliberation, but to meaningful action on a planet that by all indications is rapidly dying from business as usual? Maybe our greatest hope lies in the depth of the gestures we make in the face of doom, outwardly irrational but inwardly sound. “Unless you become as children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
The message of the dryad is protective and cautionary: cutting down a tree on a planet nearing its possible midnight hour is not a one-dimensional act. Our relationship to trees has long been, and is now especially, also a relationship to Spirit, and we risk everything by not paying attention to what is presented. A Zen koan: “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma coming to China?” Answer: “The Oak tree in the front garden.” It is easy to see that a tree is in grave danger; a closer look may reveal that a Divinity School is equally so.
For those whose eyes are open, every indication is that the hundred-year old Oak that Harvard chooses to cut down will likely be one of the last to reach such an age from an acorn yet to come. Unless, at the final hour, we turn.
Every tree we choose not to cut down is a prayer for the planet.
Darwin Tree Care