White Oak Felled, Remembered

A massive, ancient tree being felled by lightning isn’t news in of itself. But I’m drawn to this story for a few reasons: First, Michigan State University is my alma mater. Second, I remember this tree when I went to school there. Finally, this tree existed for nearly 200 years before the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan (MSU’s predecessor) was even formed.

It’s a nice a change of pace from headlines that read “Massive white oak removed by school to make room for blahblah”—we see enough of these headlines. For me, this fascination with physical place as a starting point for memory, as something that can affect us emotionally, is hugely important to my work, my thought process. I look at old growth forests, for example, and wonder what the world was like when they were yet saplings. I wade through forests and undergrowth and am in awe of all those that came before and stood, perhaps, exactly where I stand. In this instance, I calculate how big this tree must have been already when American itself was born. I find this exercise humbling, and, for my writing, it ignites deep within me: who are we, our problems, in relation to this magnificent natural world? I tend to start with place when I write anything, I start their and branch out, so this thinking helps me put myself in relation to the world.

Per the Lansing State Journal:

A small portion of the centuries-old tree remains between the MSU Museum and Linton Hall in the West Circle area of campus. It previously shaded a stone water fountain dedicated by the class of 1900, which served both humans and the horses they rode to campus. Before that, the land around what is now West Circle was occupied by local Native American tribes, Telewski said.

You can read the whole article here. Here’s hoping they do something appropriate with the remains (on display, somewhere, perhaps?).

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