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A Fallen Friend
by George T. Comeau

Inevitably during a project of this size one always finds small moments of regret. Of things that could have been done if only there was a bit more money or time. If only there was the additional talents of planners, architects or designers. For most of the past few years, for me anyway, this has not been the case, until today.

This has been a very large project, and during the course of events we had been faced with clearing a large amount of land to make way for the new addition. The clearing was fast and furious. One day a forest had stood at the doorstep of our library, and seemingly within moments a barren landscape had arrived as if an unseen hand had simply wiped away 100 years of growth.

From what meek jewel seed
Did this tree spring?
How first beat its new life in bleak abode
Of virgin rock, strange metals for its food,
Towards its last hewn mould, the bitter rood?

After the clearing operation, only one great tree remained. A mighty Oak stood at a slight slant leaning against the hill. This Oak was of noble birth to be sure. Thick stately trunk that had been a sentry on the hill, broad lush canopy stretching out to watch Canton develop. This Oak watched the bulldozers move closer, assured that because of its noble birth it would be spared the fate of its juniors. In most recent weeks, this oak watched as the foundations had been poured just as it did when Mr. Hemenway watched our building rise in 1902.

It had been dubbed "Our Tree of Knowledge". We took some comfort in the fact that at least there was one tree to save and one tree we could gaze out upon from our new library. We knew that we had come close to losing it, a site clerk alerted us to its size and importance and we stopped the project momentarily to accommodate our woodland friend.

It had stood for more than 200 years. It knew Indians, It knew Paul Revere, Richard Gridley, John Endicott and countless other prominent citizens. It knew many animals and welcomed the starling, crow and chickadee into its arms. It knew close to 800 seasons, turning from spring to summer to fall and into winter. If it stretched just a bit it could see trains and highways, smokestacks and cellular towers. It had eyed cautiously our building in 1902, then at almost half its age it had approached midlife in stride, it was to be our guardian at the gate. Hidden by 100 years of growth it peaked over our backyard and provided a home to countless animals and birds.

Long while the scale increased
In height and girth;
Cast many branches forth and many wings;
Wherein and under, formed and fashioned things
Had great content and speech and twitterings:
Insect and fowl and beast
And sons of earth.

We were increasingly proud of our Oak, and pointed out to visitors the fact that it had been saved from the woodsmen's axe. It would be a focus point in our new landscape. It would be a symbol of our nature of Canton. We had been asked to create a new wetland where barely one had stood, and at the foot of the wetland would rise our esteemed and stately friend, The Oak.

'What hast thou given us,
Thou barren tree?
"Knowledge," thou answerest? Thou hast set agape
The door of Knowledge only. Thy limbs ape
Some truth. We love thee not, nor love thy shape.
Imposture, thus and thus
We fashion thee.'

To create our new wetland we would have to place artificial structures deep underground. Hidden wells from which the lifeblood of water would quench new shoots of planted reeds and loosestrife. It was hoped that the Oak would get nourishment too from the new landscape. Could we plant these new structures close to the roots of the Oak? An inch of movement in one direction would mean life and in the other would mean death.

The news came on a warm, unseasonably warm September day. 48 days had passed since we thought we could save the Oak. It would be a blink of an eye in the time of our Oak. In hushed tones in a construction trailer not close enough for the Oak to hear, the word was passed. From bureaucrat to architect to builder to laborer. The decision had been made; progress on the site would prevail. The mighty Oak would fall and would not see another season pass.

Sorely then handled it
The gardener's sons.
Strangely they built it newly, having cleft
Its being all asunder; stem bereft
Of quivering limbs, save one to right and left,
Urging the self-same wit
It gave them once.

Within 48 hours the woodsman approached. No deference could be made. A slice of the chainsaws through the wooden heart felled what god had created almost 200 years ago. Time had perfected the mighty Oak, and in the end time had defeated her decline. It was and still is very sad. Man conquers nature.

'Sorrow! What sin they now,
Those wrathful men?
Passion! thou'rt come to me again too soon:
Too hot thou givst me back the fiery boon
I gave thee; love consumes me, that I swoon;
Thou, on my topmost bough, My fruit again.'

All that remains of our "Tree of Knowledge" is a large base from which she grew. Her limbs lie akimbo on the floor, her leaves wilt in the sun, and her fruit lies scattered across the ground. We will miss our tree, and miss the he shade and grace. We will miss the promise of future generations witnessing her majesty. We will move forward and people will not know she was there but for this slight ode. I regret we were not able to save her and allow her a natural end. It would have been better that lightning or a storm take her in her age, than at our hands. For the decision to have her maker set her death rather than man would have been more fitting for this great tree.

What will we plant to honor our great friend? How will we mark he place? Can we find an offspring to plant? And if we honor her who will tell her tale? We dubbed her our "Tree of Knowledge", and now we must decide what knowledge she had imparted. Her shadow will not stretch across our sun-dappled landscape; her children will no longer fall. Her memory will fade and we will move on.


Excerpts contained herein are from The Tree of Knowledge By John Gray (b. 1893)