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A Living Memory

A dying tree is given a second life—as an earth angel.

A second life as an earth angel

Hornell, New York. I’d never lived anywhere else. I knew the city like the back of my hand—the streets, the people and the trees.

So when my wife, Rose, and I were able to move to a bigger house, I knew which one I wanted before we started looking. The one with the gigantic, 100-year-old oak out front at 275 Main. Affectionately known as “Dr. Griffin’s Old House,” it sat in the thick of it all.

The real-estate agent met us outside for a tour. The front walkway took a gentle, serpentine curve around the oak. “What a magnificent tree,” I said to Rose. “Just think…our tree!”

“Well,” my wife said, “it may be magnificent, but take a look at those branches.” I immediately saw what she was talking about. The tree was full of rotting branches that looked about to fall.

Rose and I bought the house anyway. We’d have to enjoy the tree while it lasted. We moved in right away. As much as I loved admiring the tree from the den window, I worried more and more about those decaying branches. They were dangerous to the neighborhood. I knew the tree had to be taken down before someone (or someone’s car!) got hurt. Sad as it was, Rose and I did what we had to do.

“The tree removal service will be here next week,” I warned my neighbors one morning. “Hopefully the noise won’t be too bad.”

My closest neighbor looked stricken. “Oh, I don’t care about the noise,” he said. “This tree holds a lot of memories. When I was a kid playing in the street, any hit that went past this tree counted as a home run.”

The next day, an elderly man walking by the house stopped to admire the tree. “My friends and I used to climb it ages ago,” he said. “We used it as a fort.”

It seemed like everyone had a special memory of the tree. The more I talked to people the more I realized the oak was more than just a beautiful old tree. It was living history.

“Too bad they’ll remember us as the people who chopped it down,” I said to Rose over dinner one night. Oh, I wasn’t worried about what our neighbors thought of me. They understood the danger the rotting tree posed. But I hated to think of all those memories being lost. “We’ll just have to pray on it,” said Rose. “God will tell us what to do.”

I prayed a lot over the next few days. I prayed driving to and from work, I prayed when I went to the store and I prayed sitting at my desk, gazing out the window at the oak. And on an errand into town, I happened to notice something that I had driven by almost every day of my life. The country store had something unusual out front: a large bear sculpted from a tree trunk. A neighbor told me a man had done it with a chain saw.

“I’ve got it!” I told Rose at home. “A sculpture. We’ll give that tree a brand-new life.” Rose asked what in the world I was talking about.

When the tree removal company arrived with their chain saws and cherry pickers, I asked them to leave the tree stump rooted in the ground. There was nothing glorious about the nine-foot remnant from a 125-foot oak, but I wasn’t finished yet.

I heard about a young man in Pennsylvania through the grapevine who made chain saw tree sculptures. Heath Bender told me about the work he’d done, sculpting animals, mostly horses. “How about creating something new?” I asked. “Something for all the people of Hornell.” I asked him to carve an angel!

None of us really knew what to expect when Heath arrived on a bright, sunny morning in August. He started with a big chain saw and “blocked” the image, that is, he cut down the trunk to just the right dimensions for the sculpture he had in mind. It took him a whole day.

On the second day my neighbors drifted over to watch as he began to form the figure, giving it a rounder appearance and bringing out some features. By the third day Heath had drawn a crowd—and begun the final steps, carving out the details on the wings and face until the tree stump was transformed into a majestic angel, a new chapter in our town’s living history.

The old oak tree still makes memories in Hornell. And Rose and I are a part of them. 

Download your free ebook Angel Sightings: 7 Inspirational Stories About Heavenly Angels and Everyday Angels on Earth.

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