Odis Graham is sure Native Americans enjoyed the shade of the oak by his Madison County home. The tree is estimated at 300-plus years. And the limbs stretch upward in a powerful tangle of wood.
“The Indians sat under this tree,” said Graham. “This tree was growing back before George Washington.”
Graham and his wife, Carolyn, enjoyed their 50th wedding anniversary on Aug. 8. And they’ve spent the last half a century looking out the window of their Graham Road home at the massive oak, which is approximately 22 feet in circumference. They watched children and grandchildren play in the shade, listened to the owls hoot from high in the limbs, saw the occasional snake slither from one cool spot to another.
But as the wind picked up at 3 a.m. a couple of weeks ago, Graham was awakened by a mighty crash. A limb measuring eight feet in circumference and running about the entire length of Graham’s home slammed to the ground. Had another adjacent limb on the tree fallen, it would have crushed the house and possibly injured or killed its occupants.
So, Graham made arrangements to have the tree taken down on Tuesday, knowing that the close call was a warming of potential dangers to come.
Madison County Extension Coordinator Carl Varnadoe said his office has received more calls than usual this year about struggling trees.
“It does seem as if we are getting more calls than in the past about big trees — oaks, sycamore, pecan, pine, maple, etc.) having problems and even dying,” said Varnadoe.
Varnadoe says many factors can account for the drought-related stress trees are experiencing.
“As soil dries it literally pulls away from the tree root,” said Varnadoe.
The extension coordinator said the “space” that is created causes two problems: “the roots will dry even quicker if there is no soil around them and when it does rain enough for water to percolate into the root zone those ‘spaces’ fill with water (not soil) causing root rot.”
Varnadoe also notes that insects and diseases are “opportunists” that attack weakened and stressed trees.
“Unfortunately for the homeowner, very large trees often take years to show any symptoms of stress,” said Varnadoe. “In other words the troubles with trees we are seeing right now are likely more a result of prior years droughts. This year’s prolonged drought has simply pushed these large stressed trees over the edge so to speak.
Sometimes the first sign of stress can be that 3 a.m. crash that jolts a homeowner from peaceful sleep.
Graham said he doesn’t want to take any more chances of nighttime surprises from the old oak by his house.
He stood by his garden Monday morning, gazing up at the branches that curled 100 feet into the sky. Graham said he intends to use some of the wood from the tree as keepsake furniture items for his children.
“This is history,” he said. “It’s kind of like a funeral. I hate to see it go.”