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Elizabeth Fishel: Live Oak Down

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Trees that almost seemed like members of the family have been victims of our historic winter weather, and Elizabeth Fishel now contemplates the huge space where her live oak once stood.



On the stormy first afternoon of spring, winds howling, I was on the phone in my kitchen when a green bushy comet seemed to whir past the window at lightning speed.  “I have to go!” I yelled into my cell while running to watch the last hurrah of our beloved California live oak come roaring downhill from where it had stood for 60 years in our side yard.  I’d spent half my life staring at this noble tree, as the windows over my desk and the kitchen sink gaze straight at it. The oak was not only the symbol of the town where my husband and I had lived for 40 years, but also the focal point of our garden and a touchstone for our lives.



Yes, it had been leaning precariously since we’d known it, but twice, an experienced arborist had examined it and told us it was “fine.”


Now it was stretched out like a giant, fallen warrior across our driveway, its menorah-like branches, jagged leaves, tiny vanilla blossoms, and massive trunk felled and defenseless, its yanked-out roots complaining in the wind. Its velocity cracked the windshield of our car parked in the driveway and nipped the corner of our newly re-built garage which had been totaled by a neighbor’s tree falling on it just three years earlier. Ah, California living.


Growing up in Manhattan, I’d thought a tree was simply a tree. No varieties, no personalities. In the spring the Central Park trees leafed into round green lollipops like a child’s drawing, and in the winter, their branches were bare.


Only when I moved to the Bay Area in my twenties did I discover that trees were as various as family members. Now on our own Rockridge property, we had a towering palm tree, a stalwart redwood, a scrubby volunteer fig, and an apricot delicately blooming.  Each one had a history and an unknown future.


The lost live oak will leave a huge hole in our garden and in our lives. We’ll mourn as we stare at the place where it used to be, remembering its grandeur, its solace.  But one day we’ll be ready to plant something new and start another story.


With a Perspective, I’m Elizabeth Fishel.



Elizabeth Fishel writes books and articles about family life and teaches writing in Oakland.

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