Tropical Storm Henri spared the Island for the most part, but it brought just enough intensity to topple a magnificent oak tree that shaded and provided enjoyment for Niantic Park and its visitors for generations. Located in a quiet corner of the park, the tree’s massive appendages spread almost horizontally like great arms that welcomed rapid ascension to higher altitudes, where secluded niches offered solitude from the bustle below.

Close examination revealed that the base of the tree was soft with black rot, despite outward appearances of robust green foliage, but I teared up nonetheless. I spent many hours of my childhood climbing that tree. As a parent, I divulged its secrets to my daughter, and even one of my stout-limbed basset hounds figured out how to scale its thick boughs. I am sure I am not alone in thinking of it as our own Giving Tree, though done in not by hacksaws to build a home, but by natural causes. Who’s to say Shel Silverstein, a longtime summer resident of the Camp Ground, did not look to this specimen for inspiration for his seminal 1964 children’s book about love and loss.

As I sit here mourning its demise, I look to the future and what will go in the tree’s place. It is with great hope that the Oak Bluffs parks department will have the grace and foresight to plant a new tree in that spot. A similar-sized colossus fell in the aftermath of a northeaster a decade ago in Nashawena Park and was never replaced — the contours of its trunk still reflected by the curves in the asphalt which accommodated its presence. Imagine if a new tree had been planted: though a sapling couldn’t easily replace its predecessor, we would have been rewarded with the presence of new life. Perhaps the town could plant one there as well.

Why bother, you wonder — the likelihood is slim that any of us will live long enough to witness the full blossoming of these trees. To answer that, I offer an example provided by our 35th president.

In a 1962 address in Berkeley at the University of California, John F. Kennedy invoked an anecdote concerning French Marshal Lyautey (1854-1931), which he often employed in speeches to highlight the urgency of embarking on new projects. In Kennedy’s rendition, Lyautey wanted his gardener to plant a particular tree, to which the gardener objected because it would take over 100 years before reaching its full maturity. Rather than deter Marshal Lyautey, this spurred him to exclaim: “In that case, there is no time to lose. Plant it this afternoon.”

Let us hope that the parks department will share Lyautey’s wisdom of taking the long view, that the seeds planted today will provide joy for those yet to come and whom we may never have the pleasure to meet.

Barbara Basbanes Richter

Oak Bluffs