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Commentary: The great loss of Piedmont Park’s magnolia tree

Original Story by Maria Saporta on WABE

Piedmont Park magnolia tree

Growing up, Maria Saporta’s favorite tree to climb was one of the magnolia trees in Piedmont Park, which has sadly been cut down after a fall. COURTESY OF PIEDMONT PARK CONSERVANCY

One of the most popular trees in Piedmont Park – a stately magnolia near the bridge between the two lakes – toppled over in late July when its root plate cracked. The city quickly cut it down because it posed a danger to the public.

Growing up, my favorite tree to climb was that same magnolia tree in Piedmont Park. It had limbs stretched out like welcoming arms.

Almost every day, one could see people posing for photos next to the tree or sitting on one of the grand limbs reaching out at a perfect height for perching.

It’s hard to imagine a more people-friendly tree than the grand magnolia.

So when I walked to Piedmont Park – and saw the freshly sawed trunk surrounded by wood chips – it almost made me cry. It was as if part of me had been cut down.

There was a bouquet of flowers laid on the trunk – showing me that I was not alone in my grief.

A fellow park patron shared in my moment of sadness, knowing a mutual friend had passed on. Looking closely at the trunk, we saw that its core was rotten, understanding what had happened to the tree.

No storm or high winds toppled the tree. Just the weight of age and illness. It’s time had come.

Mark Banta, the president of the Piedmont Park Conservancy, estimated that the tree was about a hundred years old. They took a slice of the trunk so that they would be able to count its rings and determine its exact age.

Some suggest it may date back to the Cotton States Exhibition in 1895, one of the signature moments in Atlanta’s history, when the city was introducing the New South to the nation.

As I reflected on the grand magnolia tree, I realized that it had lived twice as long as I have. And yet, I felt as though we had grown up together.

Seasons pass, and trees like people, come and go – leaving an empty place in our hearts.

Goodbye my sweet magnolia.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

2 replies
  1. John H says:

    We had a magnolia front and center of our yard of my
    childhood home. Our house was on a hill and thus it loomed even larger than it
    really was; an imposing, towering structure from the street below. I climbed
    that tree like I was an explorer searching for new heights; swung from its strong branches like Indiana Jones into leaf
    piles below; hid amongst its span when needing solitude. My parents even had a
    professional childhood portrait taken of me leaning up against it like I was
    some GQ model. The tree my crutch in what was no doubt an awkward photo shoot
    for all involved. That money would have probably been better spent taking
    photos of the magnificent magnolia. It was more a part of that home than I was;
    planted long before we moved there in 1978 and remaining even once all us kids
    had left. The photo still hangs in my parents’ house; sadly the tree is no
    more. Years ago they were forced to cut it down as it was becoming unstable,
    disease and/or age the likely culprit. It makes me think of the Shel
    Silverstein book, The Giving Tree. As we now know the importance of trees and
    the benefits they provide, I realize that tree gave me far more than just happy
    memories. Even now when I pull up that steep driveway for a visit, I cast a glance
    to my left and see emptiness where an old friend used to stand. My parents have
    landscaped over the spot, but for those who know what once was, it seems to be
    more of a scar that has since healed over. But I don’t weep. To paraphrase the
    Greek proverb and Nelson Henderson quote, I think of a child one day sitting in
    the shade of a tree that I have planted. And that makes me smile.Report

    Reply

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