A Visit with an Ancient Tree

Sitting by “The Grand Oak” (sp. Quercus agrifolia) on the grounds of Highland Springs Resort in Cherry Valley, CA. photo by Dan Bessesen.

“Are you really 1100 years old?” she asked the Oak, her eyes wide with the wonder of it. 

Yes, whispered the tree. It is true.

“Oh please then, tell me what you’ve seen.” And she sat on the sun-dappled earth, curled her arms around her knees, and examined the tree’s gnarled trunk, as wrinkled and weathered as an old man’s face. She gazed up at the broad stretch of leaves which rustled and glittered a hundred feet across, a cool umbrella against the brilliant sky, as the tree shared its history. 

I have been alive more than nine million hoursThe tiptoe of days has become the stride of centuries. Still, seasons swing ‘round and ‘round and ‘round again. Nothing remains the same.

I have seen tender saplings grow full, only to have their leaves whisked away by the autumn wind. I have seen snowflakes arrive as tiny puffs of innocence and commune to cover whole mountaintops. But come spring, delicate flowers bloom in their melting wake. These are the ways of the world. 

I have endured the chill of night, the scorching sun, the prick of rain. I have trembled against a riot of storms, crashing and flashing until I stood bare in surrender. I have felt the lick of wildfire charring my skin, leaving indelible black scars. And I have watched a forest of brothers carved to pieces and carried away until the landscape fell to grass.  

Yet I have basked in the calm of night, the warming sun, the gift of rain. I have swayed to birdsong. I have relished spectacular sunsets, clouds of every color.  I have been tickled by breezes that taste of the sea. I have witnessed weddings and the quiet celebrations of lovers. I have listened to the laughter of children. And I have spoken with many, many people like you; even Albert Einstein came to discuss matters of the mind.

 “And what …” she inquired, eyes damp with reverent tears, “… what have you learned from it all?”

That life is precious, my child, and even a millennium seems far too short.

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