A friend who knows these things says this tree may be 400 years old! Four hundred years old?! If so, it would have sprouted around the same time Charles Charleville built Fort Lick, later to become Nashville, where he traded furs with the local tribes. This tree would have presided over a part of this state's prehistory and over its entire history as Tennessee!
Early on I was advised to cull this and other old trees on my land--to make use of the wood and so that surrounding trees would have room to thrive. Isn't that what we do with our elderly? Remove them to make way for new generations? Don't they just take up space and resources that others could make better use of?
Maybe not. What we learn in The Secret Life of Trees, a book by Colin Tudge, is that these grand old trees send out a massive underground root system that feeds and is fed by other trees in the forest. The other trees live in symbiosis with these old growth trees, exchanging nutrients unseen below the soil line even when the older trees are but stumps. Not only this, they continue to sequester carbon, give off oxygen, and to support the structure of the surrounding soils. These old trees are literally feeding the forest and keeping it healthy as they slowly age in place and fade away--full of purpose until the end.
I feel as if I am becoming an old tree sometimes. I absorb so much angst and poison from the air around me, buffering and sequestering, trying to turn it into breathable air and nutrients, trying to protect and feed others as my own limbs become more withered and gnarled. On good days, I realize and appreciate how deep my roots go, tunneling unseen through the world to nourish those who've come after me and for whom I care so deeply. That bond and watching them grow and prosper nourishes me in return. These old trees show me that even when parts of me begin to fall away and I am left a mere stump of myself, I will have purpose. With that I'll be a happy stump!