I saw a story this week about a 150-year-old tree in Rock County that has to be cut down to make room for the expansion of Highway 26 between Milton and Fort Atkinson. As it happens, something similar has happened in my life recently.
For as long as I could remember, a giant quaking aspen tree stood in the dooryard of the house I grew up in, just as it stood over the house my father grew up in, which was torn down in 1956. It saw me come home from the hospital after I was born, just as it saw Dad come home from the hospital after he was born. And for a lot of years, it showed its age. One night in the summer of 2010, a storm rumbled through that little patch of Green County, no different than other storms the tree had seen, only this storm fatally weakened her. "It'll have to come down," Dad said. It didn't come down right away, however. It wasn't until sometime early in 2011that the deed was done.
I was almost afraid to go home for the first time when I knew it was gone, because I feared how much it would change the place. Almost everywhere you went around the farm buildings, you could see it. It framed the space over which it towered, as if it were protecting the house in the crook of an arm. It shaded the dooryard and the driveway beyond. In the spring, it dribbled sap, so you had to be careful about parking your car beneath it. It hosted tire swings and sandboxes. Generations of cats, dogs, and kids played around it.
Like many things in life, the reality wasn't as terrible as the anticipation. The place sure looks different, but not unbearably so. The stump is still there, and it's probably going to stay. I'm glad of that, so my nephew and niece, who are 10 and 8, will be able to retain some hazy memory of the big tree that used to be in Grandma and Grandpa's yard.
It wasn't possible to count the rings, because the trunk was largely hollow. But the tree-removal guys estimated that the tree was at least 200 years old. And that's pretty incredible. That tree stood in that spot before there was any such thing as Wisconsin. When Abraham Lincoln was a boy. Quite possibly while George Washington still lived.