Saying good-bye to a grand old tree
By Maria Saporta
For years, my neighbor, Ingrid, and I would take our dogs at the break of dawn to walk around the lakes at Piedmont Park.
It was a tradition we enjoyed – even on the coldest day of the year when a local television station interviewed us wondering why we were out walking on such a cold morning.
As part of the daily ritual shortly after we entered the park from 10th Street, Ingrid would go hug her special tree – one with a massive trunk that obviously had been around since the Cotton States Exposition in 1895.
From the size of its trunk, I’m pretty sure it was the oldest tree in Piedmont Park. It obviously has seen it all – from ice storms to tornados – and age had taken its toll on the tree, which still stood tall despite its advanced age.
Ingrid felt such a kinship with the tree that she didn’t care whether people thought she was a little odd when she would give the grand tree a hug.
Nader, the dog Ingrid would take on our walks, belonged to Harriett Frankel, the woman who owned the house where Ingrid rented a small basement apartment. Most afternoons, Ingrid would come over to my house and help watch my kids and give my dogs and cats love until I got home from work.
As time passed, Nader died, and our daily walks together ended. Then Harriett died, and Ingrid had to move to an elderly high rise in Midtown. Fortunately, our friendship has continued, and Ingrid still comes to my house a couple of afternoons a week to visit with me and my menagerie of animals.
Once in a while, if she was up to it, we would walk to the park so she could hug her tree. One of the last times was the day of the solar eclipse, which we watched from on top of the nearby hill. (We were both pushing walkers because I had recently had my knee replaced). After the eclipse, we walked down the hill so Ingrid could hug her tree.
Of course, I have continued to take my dog(s) on walks to the park. A few years back, in Ingrid’s honor, I started giving hugs to her tree – much to the dismay of my children, who said I was embarrassing them. I also didn’t care what people thought, and it made me happy when I would tell Ingrid that I had hugged her tree.
Last weekend I saw the inevitable had happened. The grand old tree had been cut down. It felt as though a friend had died. All that was left was the massive trunk where the tree once stood.
I asked my daughter whether I should tell Ingrid. Absolutely not, she told me. It would only sadden Ingrid, who has had her own recent health challenges. “Take one for the team,” my daughter told me.
Yet I wanted to share the story of Ingrid and her tree with y’all – as an example of how we bond with our environment.
This past Sunday, I took photos of the tree’s stump, but they don’t seem to do it justice. I guessed that the trunk was six to seven feet in diameter – an impressive remnant of rings upon rings showing the longevity of the tree.
Even though Ingrid doesn’t have a computer and probably would never read this column, I still feel as though I need to tell her. It must be the journalist in me. I would rather err on the side of sharing information than holding something back.
After all, Ingrid and I have experienced the deaths of so many of our animal and people friends. It only makes sense for me to tell her that we now have lost her beloved tree.
On my walk this past Sunday, the melancholic mood of the season stayed with me after I saw the hollow space where Ingrid’s tree once stood.
So I then decided to take Bear, my dog, to see the two Ginkgo trees we had planted 18 years ago in memory of my parents.
It was uplifting to see how well they were doing – with their leaves on the verge of turning to that bright Ginkgo shade of yellow.
Seasons come and go – as do all living things – be it our trees, our pets, our friends or even ourselves.
All we can do is fully appreciate what we have when we have it – and remember the special moments we have had along the way.
Readers: I wanted to close the loop. This past Friday (Nov. 30), I finally was able to tell Ingrid about the tree. I read the entire column to her, including all of your comments. She was deeply touched. And much to my relief, Ingrid did not mind me sharing our tree story with all of you. Even though she was sad the tree is no longer there, she was comforted in knowing that all of us share a love of trees and our environment. And today (Dec. 2), on my walk to the park, I saw two people who had been part of the Jingle Bell Jog resting on the tree’s stump. The cycle of life continues.
Maria- Thank you for sharing a story so personal and profound. What a better world this would be if we all honored the lives of trees as you and Ingrid have.
Who are we to say that their lives are of any less importance then our own.Report
What a lovely story, Maria.Report
Does anyone know why it was cut down?Report
Nicely done Maria, you “tree hugger” you!Report
I’ve been enjoying your take on things for many years now and simply, just wanted you to know it… you’re very special. Thank you for sharing. I think you’re wonderful,
Parks Department’s arborist division would have made the call–looks to me like it was based on general decline in the health of the tree. The photo at the top shows a (water?) oak with a very sparse canopy and lots of pruned-off large limbs. The photo at the bottom of the cut stump shows evidence of fungal fruiting bodies on the buttresses, which indicates root or trunk rot, which is confirmed by the cavity evident in the trunk.
Decisions to keep or remove a declining tree are a fulcrum balanced between continued utility of the tree and liability for damage or injury caused by a tree’s catastrophic failure. Hopefully the conservancy decides to plant a few new ones in the vicinity.Report
Trees are sacred, but even the strongest of them have a life that can become stressed in the midst of city life. Just as humans. This tree had lived its life. Great article.Report
Tree huggers of the world UNITE. Unashamadlely ! Loved your story, MariaReport
a good reminder that even old oaks don’t last forever; Plant More Trees!Report
Love the story – there’s a huge old Oak across from my office that some say you could see in the Cyclorama painting – then just a young oak on top of a hill just north of Inman Park.
Speaking of planting trees, my father brought a handful of “sticks” over to me at my house on Ponce Terrace back in the late 80’s. He told me they were dogwoods – so I planted all of them, maybe 10 or 12 – around the small yard. I don’t live there now, but I drive by occasionally, and you can barely see the house for all the giant dogwoods growing in front….Report
Lovely, Maria. I pat, hug and talk to trees myself. Hug Ingrid for me.Report
Is it my imagination or are your parent’s Ginkgos leaning toward each other? Regardless, it makes me happy to believe that they are and that someday they will be touching. Lovely story.Report
Maria, such a wonderful, sad story. Each grand tree cut down in my neighborhood of Inman Park or my neighboring communities is a very sad day. I am so glad you included the Ginkgo planting honoring your parents. For many years I’ve included a nursery gift card with a my note of sympathy when a loved one has passed. It is a wonderful way to say they are still living with us. Thank you again for this article and thousands of others I ‘ve enjoyed over the years.Report
Loved your article Maria! We share your love of the trees in Atlanta and morn the loss of so many of our lovely trees. Thanks for the sweet article. I think of Ike often. He too was a lover of trees as you know.Report
Thank you for sharing this touching story. Many of us have special trees that we visit regularly and can really relate to your personal relationships with this water oak and your friend Ingrid. Both are blessings that make life rich.Report
Maria, thank you for sharing this story. I highly recommend you read “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. Your friend would probably like it too. I read it to my children and have given it as gifts (received it as well!).Report
“Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say: Let there be a tree – and there will be one.”
― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and ThereReport
Beautiful story. Maria. In 1969, when I flew from LA to Atlanta to attend Spelman College, I was awestruck by my first glimpse of the forest below. The town appeared to be made of giant broccoli. Alas, no more. I left a much changed Atlanta in 2009 and moved back to California. A few years later, On a drive up the coast, I realized I was about 10 miles from Big Sur. I detoured from my planned route and made a pilgrimage to the giant redwoods, embracing one while I said grace. We cannot survive without trees, so we should show our appreciation. Signed, another tree hugger.Report
Beautiful stories, Maria. Thank you. Love your planting trees in memory of your dear parents. I recall meeting your (legendary) dear Dad and I think your Mom, too decades ago at my beloved grandparents home. When I see trees, especially the majestic ones, I remember they were here before I arrived and will last long after I’m gone. We all should respect our environmental surroundings as also God’s gifts. That’s why we call it the present, right?!Report
What a wonderful story Maria. Thank you for sharing this personal experience. Our relationships are really all that we have. The tree symbolized so much to you and Ingrid. I was quite touched reading your story and thinking of all the relationships that have come and gone over a lifetime. I cherish them all.Report
The giving tree – great article!Report
What lovely sentiments to put out into our world! Much-needed love and appreciation for nature and each other. Many thanks, MariaReport
Maria, as you know your Dad loved the park,
and would love this story.Report