Rescuing Roots from a Childhood Oak Tree

When a Verona native realized the centuries-old oak tree of her youth had been cut down, she raced to salvage pieces of the trunk before it was too late.

Illustration by Betsy Everitt

For months, I worried it wouldn’t happen. But I couldn’t give up. If I had, I wouldn’t have found John, and there’d be no story.

My parents bought a house in Verona in 1946, when I was 5. My sister, Merry, was born two years later. Our house was far back from the road. It felt safe and adventurous, with a big backyard and suburban wildlife. The main attraction for me, by far, was the massive tree in the front yard, which rose higher than I could see. We called it Old Oak. An arborist who checked Old Oak for my parents after the blizzard of 1947 had pronounced it 300 years old.

Playing beneath Old Oak, my best friend, Justine, and I made acorn people and horses. From Old Oak’s lowest branch, my dad hung a wooden board on a chain for a swing. The back-and-forth motion of the swing and rhythmic clicking of the chain comforted me. I’d lie under the green lace umbrella, marveling at Old Oak’s bulk and height—my protector.

In autumn, Merry and I jumped into colossal piles of leaves. Once, my mother, miscalculating my sister’s endurance plus the number of acorns Old Oak produced, offered to pay her a penny an acorn to pick them up. Merry was rich!

Time passed. I was swinging less under the tree and more on the dance floor. When I came home from college, Merry and I posed for photos in front of Old Oak. Long after my father sold the house, Merry and I visited Old Oak when attending Verona High reunions.

Justine called last October. A new owner had bought the property and taken down the tree. Sucker punch. I found the real estate photo. In front of the house lay two huge lengths of trunk. I’d have to act fast to get a piece for Merry and me. The agent involved in the sale said he would try to ne- gotiate with the new owner. That failed. An arborist investigated. “I can’t cut pieces off the stump,” he texted. It sounded like he didn’t want to deal with it.

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I’m lousy at acceptance. Somehow, from Maine, during the pandemic winter, I’d find a way to rescue something of Old Oak. Again, I typed in, “Arborists near Verona.” Again, I made a call for help.

“Hello, this is John at Z Tree Experts.” I told him my story.

John Zelenka, an artful arborist, understood. He checked the property. He sent photos of the remaining trunk pieces, contacted the owner and suggested slices for my woodworking-hobbyist son in New Hampshire and cubes of about 2 square feet for a bowl maker.

On a cold April morning, my husband and I met Zelenka to examine the pieces he’d cut after transporting the trunk. I couldn’t call Merry fast enough. She was thrilled.

Trees give us such gifts, from flowers to shade, homes to books, cradle to casket. My relationship with Old Oak has a new form. I’m grateful. Comforted.

Louise L. Davis is a nature lover, grandmother and retired psychotherapist living in Portland, Maine, with her husband, Bob, and their 17-year-old cat, Neptune.

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