On a winter day in 2006, the old oak tree in the back yard came down with a devastating crash. It had faithfully stood there shading the entire house and yard for over a century, stretching its incredibly strong arms in all directions creating an intricate canopy of jagged dark lines covered in lacy green leaves. Everyone in the neighborhood loved that tree, as it was visible from every side and truly belonged to all. It was a very sad day when it was no longer a part of our everyday life on the street that took its name—Oak Place.
What remained standing that day was dangerous indeed. The split in the massive trunk revealed an old injury located deep inside at the very heart of the tree. New wood had grown around it over the years, and did its best to hide the flaw, but ultimately the weakness rendered it unable to withstand the force of that fierce winter storm. Miraculously, everything fell into the yard and the pool without touching the house. Since there were several extremely large limbs extending over the roof, we considered it one of our “lucky days.”
We were out of the country at the time, so we called our old friend Skipper, who knows all about the life and death of trees. We weren’t surprised to hear that he came right over. With urgent permissions from the city, he began the task of carefully dismantling that sprawling giant, limb by limb. He said that it was so dangerous, he would have to do the work himself, and with more storms on the way, the work couldn’t wait, so he began immediately. In fact, he postponed a long-awaited sailing trip down the south coast of California with the love of his life, Lynelle. His willingness to take the project on in the midst of his own plans and personal challenges, speaks volumes about his integrity. Lynelle had been struggling with cancer for some time, adding to Skipper’s stress. During that winter her condition worsened. It was such a selfless response to our urgent situation, as he began the arduous weeks-long process. Essentially, he worked precariously high above the rooftops until the job was done.
There were some long silences in those days after we returned as we reflected on those weeks and months that followed the removal of the old tree. Only a short time after the work was complete, his love and life’s companion Lynelle suddenly departed—unable to resist the grip of cancer any longer.
Not long after her death, Skipper was transporting three redwoods to a special mountain top location to plant in her memory. He stopped by to assess the work he’d done with the oak removal and to plant the four redwoods that would stand in its place. He wanted to finish re-landscaping that area during the fall season, to make the most of the upcoming winter rains. Specimen trees were a bit scarce at that time. As he looked at the space for our redwoods, he shifted his thinking. He planted all seven redwoods in our yard! It was an unforgettable gesture. Even though we never met Lynelle, it seemed right that this little grove of redwoods should be dedicated to her. In the waning days of her life, Skipper so carefully and painstakingly lowered the old tree to safety. . . releasing her, as well.
It has been almost 5 years since Skipper took the old tree out. On a sunny afternoon last week he stopped by to talk about some trimming that needs to be done—nothing urgent this time, thank goodness! The three of us stood side by side, admiring the 7 redwoods that he planted in place of the grand old tree. 7 young redwoods = 1 century-old live oak. Since 2006 they have grown surprisingly fast and we find it hard to believe how different everything looks.
When one life ends, another begins, making way for new growth. We always think of both Skipper and Lynelle when we look at the beautiful, ever-changing grove of trees. With a subtle nod of reverence to the past and with faith in the future, those young redwoods sent their roots down into the soil. They have taken hold and made our yard their home. Here, they will grow taller than any of us can imagine, standing long after we are all gone.
In this, and so many other countless ways, loved ones seemingly lost in the storms of life live on . . . and on . . . and on.
Note: You might also be interested in our story and song called “Where the Iris Blooms,” which was written with that old oak tree in mind.