The woman who bought our house in Santa Barbara sent me a text message today. She wanted to let me know the giant oak tree that was in the front yard had died. Over the past few hours, we have been texting back and forth about the history of the tree, and what we'd both learned while trying to save it. In between our messages, she's sent photos of the tree being cut down and taken away.
The trees on our property in Santa Barbara were extensions of the house. The two largest had been there since long before the house was built in 1910. Soon after we moved in, we hired an arborist to take a look at all of the trees on our property and give us an assessment of their health. We received a meaningful education about California Live Oaks during that process, most especially about how - and how not - to water them.
The previous owners had filled out the base of every oak tree with agapanthus - tall, slender plants with purple flowers that can grow in dense clumps. Because these plants needed a lot of water, the trees were also getting watered in the precise way they should not have been. (Soap box message of the day: Learn about your trees before you start planting anything near them.) This had gone on for who knows how many years, so by the time we moved in the damage had already been done.
What I learned today is that back then it wasn't merely that damage had been done; when we bought the house, the trees were already doomed. The efforts we made to save them provided another five years, but there was, it turns out, no hope for them to live much longer. All the water intended for the flowers that had been draining into the base and main trunk of the tree basically rotted the inside of the tree. We did everything the arborist told us to do - removed the flowers, made sure the tree received water out where the ends of its roots would be, and kept the base of the tree completely dry. Despite this, today the tree is coming down.
My husband and I did extensive work on our property in Santa Barbara. Some of it was intentional, other projects came about because, well, large trees came down. One diseased oak slammed into our house so hard I'd believed it was an earthquake. That was on Christmas, a year before we had any thoughts about moving to Wisconsin.
Almost three months to the day before we pulled out of that driveway for the last time last summer, we woke up to find another one of the oak trees on its side. It had lived for more than two centuries and grew to more than thirty feet tall and nearly just as wide, and then it took one last breath and fell quietly to the ground. We heard no noise during the night it collapsed, its broad canopy having muffled the fall completely.
Two trees, two farewells—one that was ripped out the earth, the other a weary exhale before surrendering to the inevitable. Today, the last of the three giants was taken down, and I'm glad I'm not there to see it.
These trees were formidable and solid, with deep textures in their bark. They knew things, and they knew them intimately—things like the land, the history of Santa Barbara’s early settlers, and the stories of every family who’d lived in our house before we came along. I could imagine each of them, the two biggest in particular, splitting open in the center and releasing a flurry of memories, flying into the air like butterflies.
Our move to Wisconsin was daunting, but it has provided us with many unexpected and profound gifts. There has been growth, expansion, and healing in areas of my life I thought might be shut down for good, and I believe this has happened precisely because I decided to take this leap into a completely unknown realm. Out of my comfort zone and away from patterns and routines that had taken a pretty firm hold during my twenty-two years in California, I've opened myself up to all kinds of possibilities.
I am sad the giant oak tree in Santa Barbara is gone, and I also know that in its space, something new will be planted and, with it, new stories will begin to be told. The cycle will continue; life will go on.