Our very own ‘Giving Tree’

By Randal B. Thatcher


Our very own ‘Giving Tree’


The Silver-lining to Our Elm Tree’s Sad Demise




My wife and I have been lucky enough to have one of this region’s few remaining American elm trees grace our yard—a mighty colossus-of-a-tree, towering 50 feet high, and with such a majestic crown-spread that it would literally turn the heads of passers-by.

So broad was its trunk that I could barely get my arms even halfway around; and with branches so preternaturally gnarled and twisted, that some of the neighborhood kids had affectionately named it, “The Halloween Tree.”

This venerable old tree was truly beloved; and it returned that love, in the form of ample nesting places for the birds every spring, welcome shade in summertime, and a glorious explosion of autumnal color every fall.

We hoped our stately elm might live forever (or at least outlive the two of us), but it seemed some combination of Dutch Elm Disease, bark beetles, and an insidious tree fungus, were all conspiring against this estimable old fellow.

Two weeks ago, my wife heard an ominous cracking sound in the middle of the night; and the next morning, venturing out to investigate, we discovered that nearly half of this old friend had broken off, and was lying, tragically, on the ground—like some great hero, felled in battle.

Hearts were heavy, as they typically are at the passing of a loved one. The distinctive wailing of chainsaws soon filled the air around our fallen comrade, as what was left of that once proud and majestic tree was laid low.

Neighbors would drive by and offer words of condolence as they passed; and it feel as though we actually were in mourning for a few days afterward.

But then, that dear, munificent tree, that had given so much, to so many, for so very long (we counted 84 rings), gave its last measure of devotion…

One of the chainsaw wielding neighbors took home a four-foot length of its trunk, with which to fashion a custom bench as a gift for his wife on their wedding anniversary.

Another neighbor commandeered a length of trunk he intends to mill and craft into a coffee-table for his family room.

Still another neighbor claimed several good sized chunks of the knotty burl-wood, to turn on his lathe, creating artistic wooden serving bowls.

That still left lots and lots of scrap to be cut into firewood and corded for delivery to widows and older couples in town who might need fuel for the coming winter.

And lastly, but best of all, we commissioned a chainsaw artist to come spend a day cutting, blocking and finally carving, a magnificent Great Horned Owl, perched majestically on top of the remaining eight feet of standing trunk.

We decided (after an inordinate amount of discussion and deliberation) to christen him, ‘Owlbert the Owl’; and dear Owlbert now keeps a faithfully vigilant watch over the perimeter of our property.

Seeing all that this wonderful old tree had given, I couldn’t help thinking of Shel Silverstein’s poignant children’s book, The Giving Tree, wherein a generous tree that has given its fruit, then its branches, and finally, even its trunk, for the benefit of its owner, is heard to lament: “I wish that I could give you something… but I have nothing left.”

The same is true of our old tree. It had literally given all, and had nothing left to give.

The tree in the book eventually discovers, in the end, that even as a lowly stump, it could still be a nice place for sitting and resting.  And so the owner did sit down to rest.  “And the tree was happy.”

And so it was with our old elm: it had given its all, and had nothing left; but it could still lend us its broad, sturdy trunk, as the grand pedestal for our new, wooden sentry, Owlbert the Owl.

And, hopefully, our tree is happy.

Certainly, its grateful owners are!


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