The Sad Passing of the Fletcher Oak

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Today was a gray, rainy, humid and rather sad day at Sweet Briar College. The 200+ year old Fletcher Oak gave up the ghost this morning and toppled across the college’s main road. We’re all thankful that nobody happened to be walking or driving nearby at that particular moment.

I can only imagine the sound it must have made. By the looks of it, though, the massive trunk had become mostly hollow and the reason for its crash to earth is less of a mystery after seeing the relatively small root system that popped out of the wet soil.

The tree was mostly intact but definitely showing its extreme age when I started work at SBC nine years ago. More recent years have seen extensive trimming and supports added to help keep it upright. I imagine it would have come down much sooner and a good bit more violently without these caring efforts to prolong its life. I know I’ll definitely miss it. 🙁

Our President, Elisabeth Muhlenfeld, sent a short eulogy for the fallen oak via campus email this morning. She quoted a portion of Mary Oliver’s poem entitled “Fletcher Oak” (which I will quote here without permission):

There is a tree here so beautiful it even has a name. Every morning, when it is still dark, I stand under its branches. They flow from the thick and silent trunk. One can’t begin to imagine their weight. Year after year they reach, they send out smaller and smaller branches, and bunches of flat green leaves, to touch the light.
Of course, this has consequences . . .
I don’t know if I will ever write another poem. I don’t know if I am going to live for a long time yet, or even for a while.
But I am going to spend my life wisely. I’m going to be happy, and frivolous, and useful. Every morning, in the dark, I gather a few acorns and imagine, inside of them, the pale oak trees. In the spring when I go away, I’ll take them with me . . . . And I’ll dig down, I’ll hide each acorn in a cool place in the black earth.
To rise like a slow and beautiful poem. To live a long time.

My photos from today are more documentary than creative as I was a bit rushed (still running around replacing gobs of equipment toasted by this weekend’s lightning). If anything interesting remains in the coming days (and we actually ever see the sun again), I’d like to get some more shots.

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