Raven at Angel Oak

For those who don’t know me, let me introduce myself: I’m an unabashed tree hugger. Those who do know me….well, you’ve seen my “Daddy, What Were Forests Like?” bumper sticker or you’ve heard me go on and on about certain trees I’m crazy about. Friends know I do what I do not just to make a living or because I enjoy making furniture, but because I absolutely love taking beautiful old salvaged wood – with its richness in texture, heft and stories – and creating something new. Not only is the salvaged wood magnificent but, more importantly, I don’t want to buy new wood. That means cutting down trees.

So, there’s a tree-related story in the news of late that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. I share it here not expecting any tree-hugger petitioning of government entities or any other groundswell of activity, but in the hope that those who happen across this will simply think about trees – or whatever they’re passionate about – for just a bit longer today than usual. No action necessary today….just let it simmer for awhile.

This tree story – a love story, actually – comes from Yarmouth, Maine. It’s centered around one Frank Knight, a gentleman who passed away in May at the age of 103. Frank was buried in a casket made from an elm tree, which is not newsworthy in and of itself. What got this story into the news is the fact that Frank had worked for decades to save that very tree which would eventually become the sourcewood (unknown to him….more on that later) for his casket. He had nicknamed the 217-year-old elm tree “Herbie,” and it just so happened that Herbie was New England’s tallest elm until it became a victim of Dutch elm disease and was taken down in 2010.

The reason that Herbie survived Dutch elm disease – survived 14 different instances of Dutch elm disease over the course of 50-plus years – is that Frank, the town’s volunteer “tree warden,” made sure that city workers pruned away disease and applied the appropriate disease-fighting chemicals. And for decades, that worked. Herbie grew to an impressive height of 110 feet, with a canopy “that could be seen from miles away.”

When Herbie finally had to be taken down due to irreparable Dutch elm disease damage in 2010, “his” wood was used to make many new items. What Frank didn’t know then – at the age of 101 – is that some of Herbie’s wood was reserved to be used for Frank’s casket, whenever that became a need.

In May, Frank was buried in a casket crafted by Maine-based custom furniture maker Chris Becksvoort. Frank’s family had requested a simple casket….what was important is that it be made from Herbie. And if that’s not a simple love story, a story about caring for that which you love, then I don’t know what is.

David Sharp did a great job telling Frank and Herbie’s story in the May 14 Huffington Post. You can read the entire article here. It’s a story that I think fellow tree huggers will enjoy. And for those who aren’t tree huggers, but are perhaps animal nuzzlers or beach preservationists or whatever it is that you really love, I hope the story sticks with you. Perhaps Frank and Herbie will rattle about in your head as they have in mine, making me think of things I love enough to care for the rest of my life.

One tree that’s very near and dear to my heart is the Angel Oak on Johns Island, SC (about 12 miles from downtown Charleston). It’s one of our country’s oldest live oaks, estimated at 500-1500 years old. The magnificent Angel Oak covers a shaded area of more than 17,000 square feet. Those are the stats, anyway.

If you’re ever even remotely near Johns Island during your travels, please, go visit the Angel Oak. I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited several times. Stats really can’t take your breath away….photos might come close to taking your breath away….the Angel Oak will take your breath away.