This month we mourned the passing of this mighty oak, one of the original trees planted on Duke’s West Campus. It was all the buzz in the sociology-psychology building. Sadly, no one could recall the tree’s name. We’ll have to give it the posthumous name of a dead social scientist.
Apparently the tree was terminal, suffering from a deadly fungus, discovered with the aid of sonic tomography. A tomograph is a technology that produces a cross-sectional image of a three dimensional object. In the case of a tooth, or a tree, it lets you see the rot that might not be apparent from the outside. I’ve heard that a lot of the “city” trees in Durham have a lifespan of around 80 years, so I’m not surprised that Duke was monitoring these. West Campus construction started in the 1920s.
All week we watched with fascination and a little sadness as crews worked with a with a giant crane, hoisting huge pieces of the tree over the building into the parking lot on the other side.
By Friday afternoon there was nothing left but a jagged stump.
Although the tree was gone, Duke promised that the good wood from the tree would be repurposed for use at the University and in the Durham community. Soon an e-mail circulated that there were tree cookies available for interested staff. At first I salivated on my keyboard, thinking of the Keebler Elves and their yummy confections. Then I remembered that I’d seen a one a long time ago in a science class. The teacher had shown us a tree cookie–a cross section of a stump or branch–to illustrate how trees grow. I remember counting the rings to figure out how long the tree had lived.
Last week I got the word that there was a tree cookie with my name on it. As I made the rounds, there seemed to be a cookie in every office. Bob Jackson proudly displays his cookie below.
Call me master of the obvious, but this week I’ve been thinking about our attachments to trees and all the reasons we love them–their beauty, their majesty, the cool shade that they provide. Folks on one side of the building have suddenly found that their offices are a lot brighter. It’s sad to think that something that was planted when West Campus was just being built from what was Rigsbee Farm is now no more. Feeling a little sentimental, I started waxing poetic, going back to my favorite nature-poet, Robert Frost. Pausing for a second, I looked down at my desk to realize that I had been using my tree cookie as a coaster. Feeling just a little bit guilty, I wiped off the wetness and placed my cookie next to the window.