4 Quercus (Oak Genus)

Leaving and Letting Go

November 26, 2019 | Morning Walk Report, Trees

On November 14, my father passed. How can one survive the loss? The hole in one’s life, the emptiness in the landscape?

Yesterday, on my morning walk in our small town’s city park, I came upon three oak tree stumps adjacent to the playground. They must have been cut recently while I was away caring for my dad in the last weeks of his life. The unexpected missing oak trees in that particular spot shocked me. Disoriented for a moment, I looked around to double check my location, then felt the parallel to my grief unfold as reality set in. The oaks I had named the Twin Oaks, and which I wrote about in a post last May, had suddenly become two sheared off stumps with their flat white faces bared to the sky. Like most of the other oaks in our park, they are a species called ‘bur oak’ (Quercus macrocarpa), and I had loved them.

Today, a day later, when I returned to photograph them, two of the stumps were already mounded over with soil from an earthmover redoing the adjacent road. Now they are hidden. Only the third, nearby stump remains visible. So fast. Already gone. No body. No remains.

My father donated his whole body to science. When the University attendants came to retrieve his body, the whole family followed the gurney outside and across the front yard to the shiny black, University van waiting in the driveway. His funeral procession. Next to the space where his body would slide in was a folded up gurney, and I felt somehow relieved to see that side was empty. As the body was placed into the back of the van, a crow cawed loudly nearby, getting my attention. I looked up just then to see it flying directly overhead, a sight I found immensely meaningful and comforting. Then the van doors closed. My sister bowed Japanese style until the van had disappeared from sight. I bowed as well, then folded prayer hands to forehead in respect like I do in yoga, then let my gaze drift upwards again into the sky.

My father’s disease was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood-related cancer which starts in the white blood cells of the lymphatic system circulating throughout the human body. The city park trees, some of them anyway, are currently infected with oak wilt. Oak wilt is a fungus that enters the vascular system of the tree (the xylem and phloem fluid vessels) eventually cutting off the tree’s supply of water and nutrients. It is a fatal disease. As a plant pathologist, perhaps Dad would appreciate the similarity of oak wilt to his hematology related disease. Or maybe not.

His life was wonderfully full, a life lived with adventure doing the things he loved, surrounded by loving friends and family.

So, on flows the river freely alongside the walking path, never stopping, swiftly moving, ever-changing. The banks are edged with lacy, beautiful ice forming, cold and opaque.

“Like the edges around my heart,” I think sadly.

A fat squirrel crosses the path grasping a nut in his mouth to stow away for winter. A chickadee calls out loudly, her vapor breath filling the adjacent air with such warmth it penetrates my loneliness, thaws the cold, opaque edges.

Walk on, for wherever you go there will be a path. There are times to simply walk heedless of direction or of which fork to take. Walking for walking’s sake can be purposeful in itself, unfolding the way into the labyrinth of your heart and back out again.

There is peace to find in that.


Tree Trek Copyright © 2022 by Stephanie Mirocha Ellison. All Rights Reserved.

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