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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