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.