Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The fall of the giant oak

“The state came out and measured it a few years ago. Said it was the third biggest willow oak in South Carolina.” Our neighbor paused and looked up into what remains of the canopy of the giant oak that seemed to shade half the city block. “There used to be a city bus stop right there. That bus came right up (our street), took a left and went back down (the next street) on its way back to town. The help for (the big estate house) would all take that bus.”

According to A Development History of the Stone Avenue and North Main Street Area, in 1924 Greenville’s first bus route came out North Main, turned west on Stone, and went up Rutherford Road as far as Ashley or Mountainview Avenue. It was about 40-50 years ago that the bus stop was taken down.

The center of the grand tree had slowly rotted from age, and the storm last weekend was finally too much. It seems as if the willow oak just gave up; the enormous branches were dropped to the ground radiating from the trunk. One lone branch remains stretching upward toward the sky, but not for long; the City of Greenville arrives today to clean up. I wonder if the armada of dump trucks and cherry pickers will be enough, or will they call for backup. I speculate how big of a blade they’ll need for that trunk, probably 200 inches around even without the burls. I mourn how quickly 200-300 years worth of North Main history can be reduced to wood chips and sawdust.

200-300 years of shade here in North Main. That oak has been here longer than any of the houses on our street, the hundreds of busses that passed by the stop at its base just a fragment of its history. How many couples have paused in its shade to steal a kiss, how many people out for a walk have rested in its shadow. The hundreds of birds that have fledged from its branches and the gallons of honey produced by the bees that still swarm from hollow cavities.

a branch, with Vilis for scale

I came home with a few pictures of the enormous trunk and branches, and a heavy heart.

My son came home with a handful of acorns…


Although my diameter tape wouldn't reach around the massive trunk, we did get out to measure the tree utilizing a string. Our measurement, taken at breast-height (DBH) was 203 inches in circumference, which is almost 17 feet. That's roughly a 65 inch diameter, or 5 1/2 feet.


  1. I have this thing about trees.... I absolutely adore them!! It's a shame this great one fell... Gorgeous photos though! Tammy

  2. Lyrical, emotional writing, Lienīt - we should all mourn each lost tree. That storm was something. And somewhat a miracle that the tree was felled without damage to any person or property...

  3. NYT On Nature, Dead Forests and Living Memories by Helen McDonald Sept.20, 2015: We measure our own lives against the threes we grew up with. What does it mean for us when they disappear?


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