THE 600 YEAR OLD TREE
© PJ Hayward
New York, 2016
Sunday morning I woke up to a fabulous Fall day; cool, crisp Fall air, blue skies and bright, beautiful sunshine – what a morning!
Sunday was to be a family day and my son suggested we take advantage of the weather and go for a drive.
I had read about a very old, historic tree that lives in a churchyard out in a small town in New Jersey, having already occupied its designated spot for several hundred years before the church was ever built.
This tree, being 600 years old, is reported to be the oldest White Oak tree in the United States and possibly in the world. Now however, the venerable Oak has fallen victim to its own advanced age. After decades of trying to save it, much scientific tree testing and much soul searching by the church elders, in the interest of public safety the decision was reluctantly made to take the tree down. A year of ceremonies would honor the great tree’s extraordinary life and saplings grown from its seeds would be planted to carry on its remarkable legacy. Whether to carve a monument from the massive trunk or what exactly to do, is still under discussion and debate.
It seemed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go as a family to visit this historical Luminary of the Natural World and bear witness to her remaining glory while we still had the chance.
So it was that we left behind us, the noisy New York City streets, left the traffic, the dust and the mobs of people and embarked upon the open highway to find the small New Jersey home of this ancient landmark.
As the city skyline diminished and faded away, we were treated to an awe inspiring display of nature not often bestowed upon city folk. The highway disappeared under our wheels while all around us our world became deep, open sky embellished by miles upon miles of thick, lush, verdant forest. We drove and drove through this natural wonder until finally
my son turned off the highway onto a small, winding road.
Still enveloped in the warmth of Mother Nature, I felt as though we had stepped back into the sands of time. Here and there along the landscape sprung small, neat, colonial style houses. Further along the winding road, we came upon the main street of the village, lined on either side with quaint looking businesses – a bank, shops, offices etc – again looking as though they had flown straight from the pages of some colonial era tome.
Oddly, there seemed to be an endless parade of churches on proud display in this small town, making me wonder if we would ever find the actual object of our Sunday drive. But then, my son turned a corner and all of a sudden in front of us, nobly stood this veteran of time and history, now only a bare vestige of his former glorious self.
25 feet in circumference at the base, 75 feet tall with branches spreading out 125 feet – the majestic giant still appeared regal to my eye. Now quite obviously aged, ill, propped up by steel poles, its hollow trunk filled with a ton of cement and kept from falling by 1,500 feet of thick steel cables, this enduring symbol of Life still stood proudly – as if to say, “I may be at the end of my days but I will stand tall to my last breath!”
For me it was an emotional experience. It was so obvious that Life struggles to maintain itself under even the most trying circumstances. Hence, the lower limbs of the tree still bore a few leaves – brown and dry now but still hanging on. The majority of the remainder of the tree was bare of any vegetation because there was no longer life left within the veins of those limbs.
Images flashed through my mind of all the scenes this magnificent tree had witnessed in its 600 years. I wondered how many lovers had embraced under its sheltering arms; how many happy children had run laughing and jumping through piles of its fallen Autumn leaves? How many long ago swings had been hung from its strong, outstretched limbs and how many families had shared happy memories picnicing under the protection of its leafy shade?
For me, this was my own once in a lifetime happy family memory. My smallest grandbaby brought me a leaf to cherish as a keepsake of the day and of the old tree. I’m old now too. But this sunny day I sat on a bench, surrounded by my loving children and grandchildren and witnessed the continuum of life. An ancient tree, gracing the vision of three generations of my own flesh and blood….life goes on.
A WONDERFUL FOOTNOTE TO THIS STORY!
The great old tree will live on in the form of altars for the church and meeting tables for the town! Also, a young tree grown from an acorn from the old tree, has been planted in the churchyard as a legacy of the great old tree! I’m happy now.
A branch is removed from the 600-year-old white oak tree in Basking Ridge, N.J.
600-year-old tree to be turned into furniture
BERNARDS, N.J. — Remnants of a 600-year-old white oak tree in New Jersey that was believed to be among the oldest in the nation will become furniture.
The trunk and limbs removed last week from the grounds of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church in Bernards were to be delivered Tuesday to Pollaro Custom Furniture in Hillside.
It’s now in the hands of Frank Pollaro, a long time furniture maker who said the huge job is an honor.
“The whole process starts with reverence. There has to be a very deep understanding of what the historical significance of this tree is,” he said.
It’s believed to be the oldest white oak in America. Pollaro said counting the rings inside the tree tells us a story.
“We can easily go back to 1776 or even 1492, or maybe even further,” he said.
“Each piece that we cut from this will be a work of art, it’s starting to grow a second life now.”
The tree will likely be made into several huge tables, but the furniture maker said it takes a long time to figure out what should be created out of a tree, so he talks to it. He’ll create tables for the church and town hall in Basking Ridge where the tree stood for centuries — he’ll take time while working in his shop.
“Everything we do is done by hand, no computerized anything,” he said.
“I come out here two hours a day everyday since it arrived and just walking around and we’re talking,” he said.
He said the tree’s bumps and shape tell him what it wants to be.
He’s going old school to honor the old tree starting a new life.
Officials say Gen. George Washington held a picnic near the tree with Marquis de Lafayette.
Another white oak cultivated from the old tree’s acorns was recently planted at the church.
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4 thoughts on “THE 600 YEAR OLD TREE”
What a beautiful memory! I wish I could have known this tree too. However, I am glad that you witnessed it.
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Thank you Rose. I hope at least my story gave you a glimpse into our experience!
Thank you for sharing. It is wonderful to have family outings that create memories that will be shared long after, like this tree, will be a no more.
Yes its so true. And with things being the way they are today with so many families eventually scattering far and wide, these memories become even more precious. Thank you so much for your comment. : )