Loretto had two trees that defined the all-girls campus: a redwood on Senior Lawn and a beautiful oak which lent its name to Oak Tree Lawn. This picture of the oak tree is from the back of the Loretto yearbook from 1971.
Last week the tree on Oak Tree Lawn was cut down.
I have memories of both those trees, both as a student and teacher. The redwood at the center of Senior Lawn was a symbol for the upper classman, a gathering place for seniors to enjoy lunch, leave backpacks unattended, and a tree to decorate for a friend's birthday. Seniors surrounded the tree with diapers they collected for local women & children's centers and started all of their homecoming rallies around that tree. I spent an entire night awake and freezing next to that tree, chaperoning our first freshman overnight retreat. In my last years at Loretto we watched a family of squirrels take up residence in that redwood and during class they would peek inside backpacks and steal entire lunches from the students.
Although getting to Senior Lawn was a tradition that all Loretto girls looked up to, I really believe that it was the old oak that was the true symbol for Loretto. I ate lunch under or near the oak tree as a young student and ran around it with a red blanket on my shoulders. I participated in a sunset liturgy with the altar at the base of the tree. It was a gathering place for Shakespeare festivals, study groups and friends. Some years back the base of the tree was wrapped in Christmas lights, and at night the tree was beautifully illuminated. I loved that tree. Since leaving Loretto it has been the backdrop on my laptop with an additional picture of the tree on my desk.
Even several years ago we knew the tree was not totally healthy. Recently it was discovered that the base was hollow and full of water. Animals had taken up residence in the hollow branches. With young children now occupying the campus, it had become a safety hazard and was cut down.
I know that nothing lasts forever. I know that a tree is not the same as losing a person. But the gentle oak tree was my friend. It had a spirit and a story to tell. The last moments that I spent on the Loretto campus before leaving for the last time were spent with the oak tree, as if somehow the tree would remember my story, the Loretto story.
When the oak tree was cut down it didn't look anything like the scrawnier version of itself from nearly 30 years ago. It was grand. It was majestic. It had personality and spirit. Like friends that have come and gone from my life, like Loretto that has closed its doors, so too does the old oak tree remain a part of me.