Saturday, April 18, 2009
WAKE FOR A WAKE
One of the collective nouns for a group of sitting turkey vultures is wake—as in “a wake of vultures.” Today, unfortunately, the word can also be applied in its more common usage in regards to the favorite sunbathing spot of my buzzard neighbors who roost across the river. The photo at the top of this posting was taken yesterday morning. Here’s how that same spot appears today…notice the empty space? Alas, the vultures’ preferred sun-greeting site has been cut down. Much as I hate to admit it—and as bad as I feel for the loss to the buzzards (and the handiness it was to me for taking their occasional photo)—the old sycamore had to go. The huge tree had been dead for several years. (There’s a rumor of intentional poisoning, but only speculation without proof.) You can’t tell it from the photos, but the tree actually stood between two houses, which are themselves no more than a dozen feet apart. An ancient, massive sycamore—easily six feet across at the base, maybe more, with a crown, where the vultures liked to perch, seventy feet above the base. The main trunk divided into several sub-portions about twenty feet up, and in typical sycamore fashion, numerous large limbs extended outward and upward in every direction—including over the tops of both houses. Make no mistake…this was a dangerous tree given its location and weakening structure. The tree's weight would have been measured in tons…and a considerable number, at that. Not just a tree that might just drop a big limb and damage a roof, but a tree that could quite literally crash down and flatten two houses—easily killing anyone unlucky enough to be inside at the time. Still, I hated to see the old monarch go. Short of actually counting the growth rings, I wouldn’t know how to estimate that sycamore’s age—though it was certainly in the hundreds of years. There are numerous sycamore around here and along the river; I can probably see a thousand without moving from my front deck. But this fallen giant was the king, the “big daddy” sycamore of the neighborhood. I wish it could have been saved…but cutting it down was the right thing to do. Yet I do wonder what the vultures will do. I’ve never understood why most mornings they flew across from the island, past dozens of equally suitable sycamores—huge, tall, washed by morning sun—to sit in this particular tree on my side of the river. I'm sure they had their reasons. But when the light and heat source is located 93 million miles away, why does a few hundred feet one way or the other make a difference? I wondered if they missed their favorite sunning perch this morning. So I looked and saw they were scattered in clumps or two or three birds among various trees on the island side of the river. (No need or application for a collective noun there.) And maybe they're just as happy not having to move so far for their morning sunbath. Buzzards are rather inscrutable. Nevertheless, today my black-robed neighbors and I—each in our own way—might just hold our personal memorial service for the fallen sycamore, a requiem botanica. The river which for centuries supplied water to the roots of the lamented giant can whisper a dirge…while a threnody might be furnished by the wind, which once swayed the great tree’s green branches. And come sunset, as the white-throated sparrows sings his vespers, in good and proper Irish fashion, I'll give the vanquished tree a wake.