Musing on a Dead Tree

There are few things more functionally beautiful than trees. Oak, maple, birch, cherry, apple, pear—whatever the genera, they supply us with oxygen, offer us shade, provide us with shelter. Granola wouldn’t exist without their fruits, berries, and nuts. And let’s not forget the colors they emit, the shapes they make, the sculptures they are. Even the leafless, dormant tree is a natural wonder when outlined in snow, silhouetted against a winter’s sky, bathed in sun and moonlight.

I am not a tree hugger, so why am I going on about trees? Because we take them for granted (well, I do) until they are no longer there. Who among us actually celebrates Arbor Day? This year I lost two trees: one to a major storm that toppled a grand old willow whose shallow roots were vulnerable to heavy wind and rain; the other, an oak who succumbed to disease that has slowly taken its toll over the past few years. All that’s left of the first is a massive root-exposed stump, which has defiantly sprouted scores of tiny willow branches; the second still stands noble, tall, naked, and leafless, its bark turning various shades of moss green. For now, the stump is too large to remove. But this fall the oak will be cut down before it topples over. Perhaps it will become fuel.

I’ve blocked the memory of the willow, with its curtain of leaves that covered the driveway and under which all visitors would drive. I just refuse to admit it is gone. I’ve watched the oak deteriorate over the years (it is right outside the dining room window), hesitant to cut it down, believing that it may return. As of today, there is not a hint of life, not a pimple of green.

I write about these incredible pieces of organic, sustainable design so that I don’t take them for granted as we (well, I) am wont to do.

For more Steven Heller, download his recent webcast, Researching Design History: From a Personal Perspective, from

6 thoughts on “Musing on a Dead Tree

  1. Zafarrano

    Years ago, my backyard walnut tree suffered damage from as snow storm but recovered. The following summer, from a home-wrecking company, I bought a 15-ft.-high standing pine tree and agreed to pick it up the following day. The wrecking company used its bulldozer to unearth the tree, but left its roots bare overnight. Trees seldom survive extended root exposure. I planted it anyway, near, but not too near, the walnut tree. I knew it had little chance to live. Slowly, it died … its colors faded and branches sagged. Soon, I noticed one walnut tree branch seemed to be extending towards the dying pine; eventually it reached the closest needled pine branch and, within days, the walnut branch end became vinelike and over the next few days, it several times circled the branch of the dying pine. A hand, it was, to a dying friend. I’ve not seen trees the same since.

  2. Zon Buckley

    This was a beautiful story. I have many of the same stories. Thanks for speaking for those who can’t speak themselves. And I plant a tree every Arbor Day (its my favorite “holiday”) and often give trees as gifts for Birthdays and Weddings. Its the gift that keeps on giving. No, I’m not a tree hugger, but I have hugged a tree out of respect. So maybe I am, and maybe the term “tree hugger” should not be a negative thing anymore.