Five hundred years ago…
Catherine of Aragon gave birth to a baby girl, who would become Mary I of England.
Saint Thomas More, Renaissance man and unfortunate councillor to Henry VIII, was just beginning his political career.
Bad popes and worse kings led to the sea change in history known as the Reformation.
And in a little plot of land in the New World, in a forest that would one day become the city of Salem, New Jersey, the Salem Oak Tree was getting ready to celebrate its one hundredth birthday.
Long before Europeans dreamed of the New World, the Salem Oak Tree watched over the untamed wilderness that would give birth to a new country. It grew and flourished in the plot of land that would someday become, ironically, a graveyard, calm and serene in its majesty. Named the largest white oak in New Jersey, it stood for nearly six hundred years, an iconic symbol of pride and accomplishment that only nature can carry off.
But nature, without a backward look, can also wave her wand and take away as quickly as she gives, and on a peaceful evening in June, 2019, she called the tree home. The Salem Oak, slowly dying from the inside for one hundred years, felt the weight of its history and bent to the force of time, toppling over almost gracefully to lie still on the grass of the Quaker graveyard it had watched over for so long.
Nature, however, is never without a plan. Behind the Salem Oak, hidden in its shadow before The Fall, stands another oak, nearly as grand. The heir to the crown, the next Salem Oak Tree, poised to carry on the history and grandeur for hundreds more years. It gives hope to those who stand at the wall of the graveyard and stare at the remains of their city’s greatest citizen, a feeling that life will carry on.
A member of the Quaker Church who tended the tree gave me a sprig of leaves from one of its branches. I will press a leaf into a book and it, too, will serve as a reminder. Those of us who love history know that the wheel of time is ever turning, and life renews itself endlessly while we spend our short moments watching its splendor.