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Lone tree sparks imaginations

Lone tree
Lone tree

You’ve seen it, just past Exit 10 if you’re heading north on Highway 102, about 5.5 kilometres south of Shubenacadie.

It’s a red oak, I’m certain of that, even though like most of us I’ve just glimpsed it through the car window past the airport, on the way to Cape Breton, New Brunswick or maybe somewhere farther afield.

It’s a wonder, frankly, that there aren’t more lives lost on that stretch of highway because that tree — standing alone in an empty field with a tributary of the Shubenacadie River rolling in the background — makes people stare.

When they do they see what they choose to: For a Halifax policeman like Mike Willett, returning home after an action-packed shift, the tree represents calmness, stability and “inner strength.”

Sherry Calder, a marketing and public relations professional living in Dartmouth, is simply struck by the contrast of the luminous tree standing in a vast, empty field beside a teeming highway.

For Donna Parker, a photographer and Youtuber who moved from Alabama to St. Margarets Bay, the tree “stands there in all its beauty” as the real-life manifestation of Disney’s tree of life.

Even a less poetic soul like me can feel the pang of recognition of something visceral but undefined when I look at a tree that, thanks to social media, has a fame that spreads far beyond Nova Scotia.

“I call it the Joshua tree,” says Larry Peyton, a Newfoundlander who moved to Nova Scotia from Ontario four years ago. That’s not just because he’s a U2 fan.

The Joshua tree found in the Mojave desert and elsewhere in the southwestern U.S. was supposed to have led the Mormon settlers forward.

To Peyton, who has photographed it something like 50 or 60 times, our tree stands “like a sacred thing” that speaks to him in some deep way.

He’s not the only person who thinks so. Ed Versteeg, who inherited the land upon the tree stands from his parents four years ago, calls it a “touchstone” for so many people.

Someone, presumably a military family with a member serving overseas, tied a yellow ribbon around Versteeg’s tree. People take pictures of it, which they post on Twitter and Instagram, and immortalize it in paintings that hang in living rooms.

While hunting for a geocache hidden there, a couple once got engaged at the red oak while another, recently, asked for permission to get married underneath its massive canopy.

“God knows what else they’ve done there,” says Versteeg, a landscape architect who lives just across the highway.

It’s true that this tree has seen some things. Local lore puts it at three centuries or so old, which means that below its branches some of the first European settlers in this province, and the Mi’kmaq before them, walked.

After all this time the tree, where eagles sometimes nest, is clearly on the decline. But it’s still healthy enough to produce acorns. And even from inside a car a football field away, it is still a thing to behold: 20 metres in height with a canopy that measures about the same tip-to-tip.

“It is not getting any younger,” concedes Versteeg, who rents the surrounding land to a neighbour who raises grasses, legumes and sometimes corn around the big tree.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The old oak will stand for a long time yet in that rural field as thousands and thousands of cars drive by every day.

Some of them won’t notice. But so many will.

Every time Sackville’s Trevor Sanipass, the world’s eighth-best arm-wrestler, drives past it, he thinks of his Mi’kmaq ancestors.

Len Wagg, a photographer, took a picture of the tree on Sunday, immediately posted it on Twitter and is still getting comments on it three days later.

“The one tree, left standing, almost feels like it’s won against the elements,” he says. “One can imagine a picnic, a swing, a lazy nap under it.”

Actually, one can imagine anything one wants.

 

TAG: John DeMont is a columnist for The Chronicle Herald.

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