By Joe Rector

A trip to middle Tennessee showed just how much damage the recent snow and ice storms have caused. The roadsides along Interstate 40 were littered with limbs and downed trees. For some reason, the sight of such damage brought on sadness.

Trees are one of the few things in our lives that we associate with strength. They reach high into the sky as their limbs stretch toward the sun. Huge trunks offer support during some of the toughest conditions. Trees hint at permanence in our otherwise temporary existence.

When I was a kid, one maple tree stood at the side of the driveway. Even then it was huge. One limb crooked at just the proper angle and lent itself to climbing for any children who were adventurous enough. I never could make it up there for two reasons. First, I was a large child; ah, heck, I was FAT. My skinny arms and legs couldn’t produce enough muscle power to pull my girth up toward the limb. Even if I’d been strong enough to heave myself up to the limb, I’d never have done so. The other sad fact that I was afraid of heights kept me from enjoying an adventure in that tree. Even being a few feet off the ground terrified me. So, I stayed grounded as my older brother and boys in the neighborhood shinnied up the tree and spent hours in it.

More than 50 years later, that same maple tree is alive and thriving. It’s lost a couple of limbs over the years, but it still stands strong and offers its branches to any children who might come visit. The tree’s leaves offer dabs of color to fall days before avalanching to the ground. Even during the cold days of winter, the tree stands strong against snow and ice and brutally cold winds.

In the back yard, a maple sapling continued to thrive until it was a strong, healthy tree. Amy and I were married and living behind my old home place. By then, I could chin myself, and one particular limb served as the perfect bar for the exercise. My mother, brothers, sisters-in-law, and children escaped to the tree in summer months to enjoy its shade and the cool breezes that came to ease the heat.

That tree succumbed to some kind of disease a couple of years ago. Large limbs and sections of the tree withered and died. When nothing else could be done, the tree was cut. I watched and almost cried as it was cut into sections. It stung as I watched and remembered all those good times that my family enjoyed.

In high school, I rode the bus on occasion. One tree sat in the middle of a field on Oak Ridge Highway. It was the most perfectly shaped tree I’d ever seen. Its beauty was more apparent when golden leaves covered it during October. I dreamed of building a house in that spot and enjoying the tree each and every day of my life.

At some point, developers scraped the land and turned a vast hay field into a dud of a commercial park. During the site preparation, the roots of the tree must have been damaged because it lost its leaves, and before long, the grand tree died and was unceremoniously cut and piled up as if it were garbage. I suppose that was the first time I resented the unchecked abuse of land and nature’s creations.

I’ve seen trees take serious poundings on several occasions. In 1974, the same storm system that hit Xenia, Ohio, roared through Cookeville. I was a student at Tennessee Tech then, and I surveyed the damage caused by tornadoes that tore through the area. A swath had been cut up and down the hillsides and of Monterey Mountain. In 1982, an ice storm paralyzed the Knoxville area for a couple of days. It slammed trees and bent many of them with a weight over which they could not recover. They remained stooped and resembled old folks whose spines had curved. Crews came to end their miseries and left nothing more than chips from ground stumps. The landscape was barren.

Now we’ve had another ice storm that waylaid thousands of trees, especially ones in the Crossville area. Some of their limbs snapped and hang loosely until winds or decay bring them down. Others lie, dozens at a time, side by side on the Interstate road shoulders. Crews work quickly to remove them from the area, but once again, the landscape shows the savage attacks it has endured.

Trees are one of our grandest features from nature. They offer beauty to our yards and fields. It’s up to us to take good care of them. At the same time, losing them brings about sadness that mirrors that from the death of a loved one. No, I don’t suggest that you hug a tree, but you might look at those special to you and send up a word of thanks for them.