An oak graveyard

There is a beautiful piece of land at the end of 290 just before you hit HWY 10. But for as long as I can remember, it was marred by miles and miles and miles of dead trees, miles of beautiful oaks devastated by oak wilt.

Passing this oak graveyard on the way to 10 used to make me sad.

Maybe it’s because I’m somewhat of a gardener, but I felt the pain of this spot keenly. I would imagine how lush and gorgeous these trees once were, how majestic this land used to be. Driving past these dead trees, seeing them droop there on rolling hills like piles of dried sticks, was a shock.

I used to try and imagine how expensive or complicated or impossible it would be for owners of this land to take some kind of action, to maybe cut down what must be thousands of trees, to somehow protect the remaining healthy ones? What would you do? Try to treat the remaining thousands left healthy with some sort of oak wilt medicine? Cut down the thousands of trees that have died?

For some reason, I always mentally obsessed each time I drove past this particular spot on my way to Marfa, or Big Bend, or Santa Fe, or California. But admittedly, it’s been a while.

So imagine my surprise this time, while driving west on 290 almost to 10– I couldn’t find the oak graveyard. I anticipated the spot like I always did, looking for the first dead oaks to signal the approach of the graveyard and preparing for the shock. But, I couldn’t find it.

I saw some dead, gnarled branches and stumps, some piles of cut wood, but I also found regrowth, a resurrection of sorts. I saw sprays of green from seemingly dead limbs. I saw new green tops on an old dead stump. It felt like I was witnessing a miracle, and I was. This was a visual representation of one of the most basic principles of life on our Earth: Death and rebirth.

In the classic Tarot card deck there is a card that scares most people when they see it misunderstanding it’s true, esoteric meaning—the ‘Death’ card. It rarely represents actual death, but really means the ‘ending of something as we know it’, and the beginning of a new cycle. Much like Dumbledore’s pet phoenix in Harry Potter, sometimes we have to accept endings (painful and dramatic) because new life needs to sprout from the old.

Yes, some of those trees never came back to life, some had to be cut down, some trees became hosts to parasite plants, cedars or wild grapes. Some stayed dead-looking, gnarled and brittle and lifeless. But for some of those oaks, their roots were strong enough to survive what must have felt like a death, only to come back to life a different shape, one leaf at a time. We need to remember this as we look around us at the world, and see endings.

Life will renew itself.

It’s a basic truth.

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