A Tree Falls: Neighbors Memorialize a Willow Oak

When a grand old tree falls near Brooks Avenue, it invites a moment for reflection on how we celebrate life.
by Eleanor Spicer Rice  |  photograph by Julie Dixon


How do you mark your years? Many of us add candles to birthday cakes, one candle for each year, each from the same pack as if every year were equal in our lives. Trees grow a ring a year, fat bands for wetter, more fertile seasons, thinner bands for leaner years. A willow oak grew on Brooks Avenue for a hundred years or more before a weather burst, a fast and freak February gust, smashed it to the ground.

Afterwards, the oak sat curbside in chunks, waiting for the grabber truck to haul it away. But before it did, Evan Kane and his family, who had walked by the living tree for decades, passed the dead one.

They counted the circles of a momentous life. Then, they marked the moments: One for the acorn in 1918’s ring, another for a town come together. Some for the hurricanes—from weather and from society. Some for the remarkable people who walked past the tree before them, like Clarence Lightner, Raleigh’s first black mayor, elected in 1973, and Isabella Cannon, Raleigh’s first woman mayor, elected in 1977. She had lived in a small, stone house only a block from the oak.

What if our birthday cakes could show the meaning of each candle? The years we were married, the years our children were born, or those in which we lost the ones we love? With paper and pen, the Kanes revealed the magnitude of years haloed in an oak tree’s trunk and exposed the beauty of a life well-lived.