“If you’re smart,” Chad confided as he stood with my husband apart from the rest of the family, “you’ll cut down that old snag tree before your wife gets attached to it.”
“You speaking from experience?” My husband crossed his arms and regarded the tree.
Chad nodded. “By the time I got around to bringing it down, Julie wouldn’t let me. She said the tree had too much character.”
With that last bit of advice, Chad handed over the keys to our dream house while he and Julie moved on to pursue their own dreams in another town.
The old snag stood sentry at the top corner of our six acres. She was a grand old thing, hollow clear through, host to animal nests and fledgling saplings sprouting from her base. Her bark spiraled inward along a crack that ran the length of her trunk. One lone branch, reaching eastward, still sported enough leaves to feed herself and her young.
As our first year in our new home unfolded, the snag captured my imagination. How many years had she seen? Had lightening carved and curled her trunk? Where did she get the tenacity to stand when she was only a shell of what she once had been?
“I think I’ll cut down that old snag tree,” my husband announced one day.
“Why would you want to do that?” I countered.
“It’s going to come down before long, anyhow. The next strong wind may blow it over.”
“She’s stood this long, let’s let the snag stand or come down on her own.”
“See the baby trees she sent up from her base?”
“But just look at it.” He waved a hand in the direction of the tree.
“I think she’s beautiful in her own way. She has …” I fished for the right word.
“Character,” we said simultaneously.
“Chad told me that if I were smart I’d cut down that snag before you became attached. Guess I wasn’t smart enough.”
As I frequently walked the property, occasionally I spotted a raccoon just before it disappeared into the hollow interior of the snag. I admired the intrepidness of the tree. Against Midwestern spring storms characterized by tornado force winds she mustered all her residual strength to remain standing. By now it was clear she existed only to nurture her new generation.
That spring I was in the middle of preparing dinner on a Sunday afternoon. My husband followed his nose into the kitchen. Sampling the menu, he looked out the window above the sink. “The sky sure looks mean.”
I glanced absently at the mounting black clouds. “Maybe it will blow through in time for you to play golf.”
But the storm had other ideas. Moving down from the north, the torrential rain was dogged by hail and powerful winds. Along our country the road, a tornado damaged barns and farmhouses. We ushered the children to the safety of the basement.
In that serene stillness that lingers after a storm has passed, we emerged from the basement and stepped outside. The air was thick and damp, water stood ankle deep across the yard. The Midwest tempest had plastered leaves against window screens. On my way to check the animals in the barn, something caught my eye.
Of course it was the old snag tree. She lay on the ground, seemingly reaching toward the house. She fell in the windstorm and my son cried. Approaching the snag we could see she indeed was hollow except for the bark that curled inward along the deep crack in her trunk. A nervous mouse that had ridden the snag to the ground ran back and forth surveying the ruins. A squirrel nest and a raccoon nest had been jarred from their perches. The skeleton of a raccoon was of particular interest to my son. Inside, the stump looked like a large sandbox filled with wood dust. A myriad of insects burrowed in the red, damp sawdust.
It took us a few days to cut the snag’s dead branches and haul them to the woodpile. I stood back and looked where the tree had stood for so long. The corner where she once kept watch surprisingly did not look empty. The saplings that had seemed small against the massive trunk now appeared tall, lush, and fragrant.
She had left behind a legacy, a heritage, and new life.