By Charles Towne
I stood and stared in awe as I looked up in great wonderment.
I was just a little boy when my father took me to the cathedral that first time. Over my head, massive timbers reached out from the apex in all directions. The central pillar, a grand and ancient monolithic support to the whole, and the whole made no less impressive by the fact that truly this was a temple, “made without hands” for the cathedral was no man-made edifice but a living thing.
What I was looking at, what held my attention, my fascination was, in fact, an oak tree.
But what an oak it was.
At the very base, where the giant’s feet were anchored to the earth it was fully ten feet thick. Its trunk soared unbroken by branch or twig for a good twenty feet into the air and there the branches began, gracefully reaching out, extending their fingers of branchettes in welcome to whatever birds may choose to build their nests therein.
Higher still the oak grew, and lifting his head he exalted over his domain, spreading his arms in welcome to all.
Many years before my first visit, after having stood for how many hundreds of years, the magnificent oak was struck by lightning.
That fiery bolt of pure energy exploded the upper portion of the giant sending that ruined portion plummeting to the forest floor.
What remained was a jagged snag, a remnant still rising above its neighbors, and made perhaps even more impressive by the fact that it had not only survived that deadly stroke from Thor’s hammer but thrived in its survival.
The forest wind continued to sing its song among the oak’s branches.
A pair of bald eagles built their nest in the crippled giant’s hair, and they were lulled to sleep each night for years of nights by the whispered song of the wind in the tree’s uppermost branches.
The passenger pigeons came each year and roosted by the thousands, at times completely enshrouding the tree in a feathery mantle, and then each sunrise that mantle would be lifted as the birds went out to forage.
Over the years the tree suffered a malignancy which ate away at the very core of its being. The resulting cavity served as home for a pair of raccoons and there the female gave birth to her first litter.
That first pair of eagles lived, grew old and died and another pair adopted the nest as their own.
The passenger pigeons came in quantities beyond numbering, and generations of raccoon pups began their lives deep in the heart of the ancient monolith.
An Indian, sensing that his time was near chose a spot beneath the oak to end his days. There he sat at the base of the oak, sang his death song, and went to sleep. His bones moldered, and were chewed upon by rodents, and scattered by the fox and the coyote until those bones sank into the forest floor to contribute their minerals to the already rich soil.
Other men came.
They did not contribute.
They came with guns and they slaughtered the innumerable passenger pigeons until those same birds that were beyond numbering were no more.
Men saw the eagle’s nest, and with cruel design they drove spikes into the skin of the old oak and then, step by step they ascended where no man had been before.
Those men took the eagles fertile eggs and drained them, and the useless, dead eggs were added to a collection of other useless, dead eggs.
The eagles abandoned the desecrated nest.
The pigeons were no more.
The eagles nest was adopted by a pair of great horned owls.
More years passed.
I came on the first of many pilgrimages.
I saw the remains of those spikes that the first raiders had placed there, more a row of scar-like weal’s, with only a few showing age rusted metal, the rest completely covered by the persistent growth of the old oak.
Then lightning struck one more final, devastating blow and the tree was split asunder. That massive first branch, amputated, dropped to the forest floor with a roar only heard by the wild creatures that roam that place.
The raccoon’s den exposed; the tree ruined, “oh how the mighty have fallen.”
Over the ensuing years, a smattering of presumptuous upstarts attempted to extend their shadows a bit more hoping they could stand in the patriarch’s place, but they were dismayed to find that they could not assume a stature even large enough to keep them safe from the first browsing deer that happened by.
I went back, and there I was pleased and mightily encouraged, for out of the very center of the mound that is all that remains of the old oak tree is a perfect young oak approximately twenty feet tall. It is strong in trunk, truly a prince among oaks.
AN OUTDOORSMAN’S PRAYER
“For they will be called trees of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”
Oh holy God, help me to grow to the stature of character and grace you intend for me. Bless me with the gift of hospitality, that, like the ancient oak, I can be a haven of refuge and friendship to those that need it. Help me to grow and thrive in spite of the adversity that life throws at me. Help me to always give all honor and praise to you, knowing that on my own, I cannot stand. I praise you oh holy God, I praise you and exalt you above all else. In Jesus’ Holy, mighty, and beautiful name I ask it, Amen.
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.