Halfway through the tedious count my eyes began to cross. I put a finger on one of the wider rings to mark my place.
“Ninety-seven… ninety-eight… ninety-nine.“ I said to myself as I finished counting. “Wow…”
Ninety-nine clear rings. Taking in to account questionable layers near the bark and several areas made uncertain by chainsaw damage, this oak was easily a hundred years old. But for last week’s ice storm it would still be living. Fallen across the park trail, the city had cut the hefty trunk into several pieces to remove the obstruction.
One hundred years.
That would mean a tiny acorn sprouted and began to form its first ring around the time Woodrow Wilson signed the Treaty of Versailles. Perhaps it emerged just as the Grand Canyon became a national park. Or maybe it struggled towards the light as Congress guaranteed voting rights to women.
A year passed, a ring formed. Repeat. No matter what… years and rings. Years and rings upon years and rings and Amelia Earhart was flying solo across the Atlantic, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president, and wind whipped across the growing tree just as it did the flag that flew over the Winter Olympics in 1932.
The year my father was born.
Passage of more time, formation of more rings. Growth was never deterred. Through the horror of the Boston Marathon bombing or NASA’s breathtaking photos of space, a ring was forming. Even as the extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela came to an end, yet another ring formed, in 2013.
The year my father died.
From the time it gripped earth as a sprouting acorn until the day heavy ice brought it down, the tree not only survived; it grew. Regardless. This majestic beast existed during years of peace and years of war. From its first to its last, so much happened between the rings.
As a sapling, it was already on its way to grandeur before my father was born and continued to grow after he was gone. One ring the year of his birth, another the year of his death. All he ever did and was, happened between those rings.
Touching the center of the cross-section of trunk, I dragged my finger towards the outer edge, moving slowly over each of those circular markers of time. I stopped for a second on the forty-third ring. If my calculations were correct, this one formed the year I was born, 1962.
I’m unable to articulate the my feelings I had at that moment. There I sat, straddling the trunk of a fallen tree, deep in the throes of profound thought due to the sight of a jagged circle inside a tree. I pressed my finger tight against that forty-third ring.
It was beautiful, I thought, as I noticed a young sapling growing nearby.
“It’s making rings.” I said out loud, glancing back down at the one beneath my finger.
Somewhere in the sapling will be another.
But, what am I going to do between the rings?
Stuart M. Perkins