The Veteran Tree: A Survivor

By Anne Donnelly

The old maple tree is gnarly, branch­es crossed, some fused, asym­met­ri­cal, hol­low, full of holes. Worse yet, it is in a direct line of sight from the front door, so there’s no avoid­ing its ungain­ly presence. 

This tree was in rough shape when we moved into our run-down 1840s-vin­tage farm­house over 50 years ago. But it was the only tree, so it stayed. Then it was where we attached the swing for our first­born, fol­lowed over the years by more babies who swung from its branch­es, so it stayed. 

As we grad­u­al­ly brought this old farm back to life, we piled six feet of soil on roots and trunk on the uphill side, know­ing then that was prob­a­bly its death knell, but it was near­ly gone any­way. It sur­vived. In those ear­ly years when the storms would rage with noth­ing to stop the pun­ish­ing winds, I’d sit by the win­dow in my rock­ing chair lis­ten­ing for the loud C‑R-A-C‑K I knew was com­ing when that old tree broke and fell. It survived.

In antic­i­pa­tion of its demise, we flanked it with two black wal­nut saplings. The birds, squir­rels, and an occa­sion­al racoon made it home. Wood­peck­ers exca­vat­ed the soft decay­ing wood. It survived. 

We hard­ly noticed when a spindly branch snaked out from the ruined trunk start­ed to thrive, and then oth­er branch­es also began to gain vig­or. Our wal­nuts were gain­ing size and we just didn’t pay atten­tion to the wreck of a maple they were to replace. The new maple canopy merged with the wal­nut. The trunk had built up tis­sue and cal­lus on the down­hill, weight bear­ing side. It had reversed the aging process! 

Recent­ly Fred returned from a con­fer­ence and wrote a brief note about vet­er­an trees” describ­ing this very phe­nom­e­non. A very apt phrase indeed! 

Our vet­er­an tree is unlove­ly but beloved. And it survives.

Fall 2021

Volume 39 , Number 3

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