A Tale of Two Trees

Thinking about trees lately, I naturally find myself thinking about trees at the state capitol in Hartford. This magnificent 19th-century gold-domed edifice is a monument to every Connecticut foible and myth you can think of and hundreds that never would have occurred to anybody.

For example, among the favorite treasures in that building is a dead tree. It is the trunk of a tree shot full of canon balls in Georgia during the Civil War? We think that's worth keeping. Indeed, look at the thing the terms accuracy, shoot-to-kill, and point-blank-range define themselves with brutal clarity. Gotta keep it.

We also think it's worth the trouble of planting the grounds of the capitol with trees who claim as their ancestor the Charter Oak, said to be (but who knows?) the repository of the first constitution of this state, though it really wasn't a constitution. The bottom line was that the English Crown had recognized the right of the colony of Connecticut to govern itself but then changed its mind. Rather than surrender this right, one sentimental fellow by the name of Joseph Wadsworth ran off with the thing and stuck it inside a famous 500-year-old Oak Tree. The whole incident has become a myth that celebrates the idea that people should run their own lives. To my mind, though, the imagery of this myth suggests that the right to self-determination is an inherent part of who we are; the need to live according to this right is inherent, part of our nature.

Back to the tree, which, nobody will tell you anything about without telling you the whole story. The tree lived until 1856, when it fell in a severe storm. Evidently, someone went around and scooped up the acorns and cultivated them. They are tall and strong and beautiful, more magnificent than that granite confection that entombs our history--more magnificent than even the story of the dead tree inside around which they stand guard.

That tree bears witness to the myth of human rage. It's trunk full of lead tells us that human beings will go to desperate lengths to pursue and protect their rights. Even to the point of slaughter. The slender tree brutalized to death by men with canon shooting at point-blank range at other men speak to that part of our nature, too. Perhaps the mythical Charter Oak and this little tree are the only tellers of truth in this citadel of law-making and the individual pursuit of special interests which seems to be this age's definition of law-making.

Last summer, my daughter and I took a tour of the building and its treasure trove of state sentiment. Out on the lawn, we scooped a few nuts for ourselves. They have been tough to crack. We stared at them in the sunshine for a while. Then we potted them and waited. Nothing. We put them in the garden. We don't know anything about them anymore, though we are not completely confident they didn't make a fine Thanksgiving meal for the squirrels who call this place home, too.

Click here to visit a list of Connecticut's venerable trees.


  1. INCREDIBLE post! I absoultely LOVE articles of historical nature! Of course, living in Mississippi, a state that is rich in Civil War memorabilia, I am constantly aware of the stories that lie beneath and upon the old trees around here. On my blog, liquidilluzion, on the side bar to the right a photo of a blue bottle entangled in earth and roots, is from an old Pecan tree that was blown over by Hurricane Katrina. All sorts of treasures were found 'neath this tree. Magical!

  2. Thanks for directing me to this photo on your amazing and beautiful blog. I will have a look. I like to spend time on your blog and see the wonderful writing and the absolutely oustanding photography--not to mention your wit! Thanks for stopping in!

  3. Anonymous9:29 PM

    In middle and high school, I used to walk in the woods near where we lived and admire the trees. The few really, really old ones provided places to sit. Today I wish I had those trees for meditation, but then all I wished for was to hear them talk, to hear the stories of days gone by and what they might have witnessed and thought interesting or odd or important.


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