If you suddenly came up behind me and shouted “Where do you live?!”–I swear the first image that would pop into my head would be this one. 6A Old Hickory Drive, Albany, New York. We moved in here when I was in grade school and moved out when I went off to college.
The other day I went back there to take a nostalgic look around. And amazingly, it was exactly as I had remembered it–except, of course, that everything had magically shrunk in size. But the houses were the same (my door used to be painted green, though, not red.) The quiet road where I learned to ride a bike, the sidewalks I played hopscotch on–yes, indeed, we really did play hopscotch. Quite the weird time-portal experience. Everything the same.
Except the trees were bigger.
Like me, the trees are taller and a lot wider in girth than they were forty years ago. Forty years–not much in the life of a tree, an enormous chunk of a human life. Old Hickory Drive is still lined, just as I remembered it, with beautiful trees. On each side of Old Hickory Drive is a stately row of–well, hickory trees, you’d think. But when I returned to my ancestral halls, I discovered that I had grown up in the shade of a…red oak. There is not a single hickory to be found on Old Hickory Drive.
When I was growing up, running under these branches many thousands of times, it never occurred to me to wonder what kind of tree it was. As a typical suburban kid, I always assumed that there were two kinds of trees: Christmas Trees and Others. The notion of identifying trees, giving names to them, wondering if they were elms or oaks or maples, never crossed my mind–a tree was a tree was a tree.
The oak and I were youngsters together, and the oak is still a mere baby of oh, I’d guess maybe seventy or so–that’s not much in the life of an oak, long-lived trees that can see centuries pass. Some red oaks have made it to the half-millennium mark, five hundred years. Unlike me, this tree has potentially centuries in front of it, but it’s busting out of the narrow space between the sidewalk and the street that was allotted to it when it was a mere sapling. The roots must stretch far below the pavement, under the sidewalks and across the road.
Like me, the oak has outgrown the cozy old homestead, but the tree can’t move to a bigger and better location.