Death of a Gentle Giant…

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There was an old hemlock in the backyard of my present home. It leaned rather precariously and most of its lower branches were dead. The tip blight had been hard at work on this towering giant and like many Eastern Hemlock here in the eastern US, the tiniest organism infected the giant, slowly strangling its resources until it was mostly dead.

My landlord decided it was time to cut it down rather than worry that it would tip the wrong way onto my little house. Since my bedroom might have been in its line of sight, I admit I was relieved not to have to worry about it any longer during a thunderstorm.

But it was with great sorrow that I watched it come down. The workers came and after climbing it and stripping away most of the branches on the lowest three-fourths, they anchored ropes to pull it away from the house and then cut it down. Even though it has been dying for years now, watching something that had to be several decades old come down in a single day was sad and knowing the giant was truly felled by the tiny blight, sobering.

Lessons abound here of course. The insidious nature of a tiny, unwanted organism felling a towering thing of beauty is one way to look at it, and of course, when it comes to trees, just as the wormy Chestnut was eradicated almost a century ago, that is really the only way to see this particular process. Something unnatural to this area, brought in by man’s recklessness, bringing low another great and beautiful species.

My father built a log house back in the ‘80s and used two large hemlock beams in the family room. He used to try and find ways to plant hemlocks afterwards as a way to give back, but of course most of those have since succumbed to blight. Instead of seeing it as a method of giving back and sharing with this world, my father always seemed to plant the trees out of guilt. I have always felt sorry for his level of guilt and self-responsibility in everything since he doesn’t seem to be able to raise his head out of that nurtured guilt and sorrow.

And yet, though I acknowledged my relief at less worry, I also felt guilt and sorrow watching that mighty giant fall, this weekend. What right did we have being so careless as to bring in this blight, unintentional or not? What right do we have to continue to pump carbon dioxide into the air? What right do certain administrations and politicians have to disregard evidence and compounded studies to roll back agreements or bans on elephants? What right do we, as the virus of humanity, have to rape and plunder this world?

Many doomsday prophets predict that the Earth will strike back at us at some point. Whether it is unleashing a plague from the melting ice, or manifesting some other natural disaster, we obviously see the ‘white cells’ of hurricanes, droughts and fires trying to eradicate the virus ravaging Her… Yes, yes, I know… I’m leaping from the science to the myth a bit, but the parallels seem obvious. And then, the Earth might recover from its long illness, the virus of mankind abolished.

We have only ourselves to blame. Is it any wonder that younger generations feel so bleak at times? They are smart enough to see the future and know that without major changes, they and their children will have to deal with the consequences of greed, hate, lies and injustice. Consequences they didn’t propagate. Consequences we foisted upon them.

My daughter talks of traveling and seeing the world before it is too late. Her plans and ideas for school and the future are on hold. Who can blame her at times? How far into the future do we really have? With old, greedy, white men choosing to line their pockets, place trophies on the walls and shove everyone else down and away in their narcissistic grasp of power, how does a young woman feel she has a chance in this world?

Maybe, if we take a moment to look at the old hemlock, we can find a lesson in its tragedy. As beautiful and straight as it appeared on the outside, its inside was rotting. And while that example was because of mankind’s inexcusable pride and recklessness, maybe those of us that occasionally feel small and inconsequential in light of the world’s issues, can take heart that even something small can bring down a giant. The giant in my backyard was a beauty and will be missed. I’m not sure I can say the same for the patriarchal hubris I witness elsewhere.

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