A tree fell today, unexpectedly (did you hear it?). As I watched it crash to the ground, I thought, this tree has reached its tipping point, ha ha. But then I wondered: What were the sequence of events that converged to push a tree over the edge for no apparent reason? There were no gusts, no ice tugging it to the ground. No rocking winds or driving rain. Just a hot, still morning on what promised to be a hotter day.
I decided to go for my walk earlier than usual this morning and chose a route around the lake. While rounding the corner and climbing the hill next to the dam where half a dozen boys sat with fishing rods poked in the water, I heard an irregular crrraaack. Someone must be doing some work outside, I thought, then heard it again. What the heck could they be doing? It’s too hot to split wood, and besides, that would be a steady drumbeat of sound, not an elongated crack and then nothing.
Did the leaves on that oak tremble or was it my imagination? Suddenly, a Red-shouldered Hawk flushed from near the top and floated to the other side of the street. The oak was the tallest of three in a copse on the other side of the embankment from where I stood. From their fishing spot on the top of the dam, I saw the boys looking around too.
Craaacck…. The oak’s leaves shivered again, like a bird shaking water from its feathers. And then I noticed a gaping rip up the seam of the trunk, like a split zipper, or a spiral fracture gone bad. The cracks became a series of pops, and then the top of the tree shifted, like a bird preparing to fly: first the decision, the hesitation as it looks around, then the muscle tension, the crouched wings, and finally, the takeoff.
The crown of the great oak bowed forward as a hundred branches spread their leaves and abandoned the sky. Launching from their pedestal, they heaved over and plummeted to the ground, leaving a shattered stalk. Over fifty years of standing sentinel over a choir of Queen Anne’s lace, chicory, milkweed and mullein, a seed born over fifty years ago once again embraced the home that had given it life.
“Timberrrrrr!” shouted the boys.
“WOW!” I answered.
Right away, I got all philosophical. How was it that I happened to get up this morning at a certain time, have coffee and breakfast, clean the cat boxes, pull on my shorts and t-shirt, choose this route for my walk around the lake and end up at the EXACT second to witness the spectacular drama of a tree smashing itself apart? How did my ordinary morning suddenly match up to this tipping point, the one Malcolm Gladwell says is “the one dramatic moment when everything can change all at once, the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point?” (“The Tipping Point”)
Makes me wonder. What is my tipping point? Will I fly? Or crash?