Conversation At One Mile
By Karen Laslo
It’s an ancient and aging Valley Oak. It’s huge – three adults would be hard pressed to link hands around its massive trunk. In the rain it’s dressed in a cloak of green moss.
In the Fall it drops a brown and gold mosaic of leaves on the pavement below where I pass on my morning walks approaching One Mile in Bidwell Park. In Winter, a dark silhouette of bare tree branches stands out against the pale grey-blue of a winter morning sky, and a chill sun filters through, painting the limbs in alternate patterns of light and shadow. An artist friend of mine once told me that, in winter, the exposed branches of trees remind him of human veins, the way they twist and turn and taper toward the tip.
One Spring morning, a patch of bright saffron-yellow on the side of the oak caught my eye. When I stopped to look I saw that it was a bracket fungus emerging from a deep scar where the tree had once lost a limb. I knew that the fungus was a sign that this venerable old tree was deep into its decline. I noticed then how many of its limbs were broken, leaving jagged sore-looking ends. Its thin scattering of leaves looked ragged and pathetic topping the great trunk of the tree that had once supported a thick and spreading crown.
This same morning of the bracket fungus, a Nuttall’s Woodpecker flew up and clapped on to the side of the tree. A Grey Squirrel yipped at me from an overhead branch. A White-breasted Nuthatch walked upside down on its trunk looking for insects. The last few shreds of a nest, left over from a previous spring, clung to a twiggy concave in the branches overhead.
I closed my eyes then, and, forgetting where I was or who might be passing by, I pressed my palms and forehead against the trunk of the dying old oak. The bark was thick and deeply grooved. I felt slight and fleeting against the sheer mass of the tree. Then, suddenly embarrassed that I might’ve been seen, I turned my back on the tree, and relieved to find that no one was in sight, I went on as though I were merely passing by on my usual walk. That’s when the tree spoke to me. “I’m old,” it said, “and yet, still useful. Ask the woodpeckers, they like me better than ever.” “You’re old,” my heart replied, “and you’re beautiful.”
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