The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 28, 2013

Jo Ellis: Towering oak becomes family friend

By Jo Ellis

CARTHAGE, Mo. — One of my favorite “occupations” in summer is to sit in one of our sky chairs with a good book and a cold drink under the canopy of a huge oak tree from which the sky chairs hang.

Sometimes I am compelled to close the book and just look up through layers of limbs and leaves swaying under the hot sun, and listen to the cries of hawks and the chatter of other birds. I can also keep a check on the bluebirds’ activity around their nesting box.

When we built our house in 1978, we had a rather narrow deck along part of the back of the house and a long flight of stairs to the ground. We soon realized that it wasn’t really adequate for the outdoor living our family loves, let alone any guests. So 30-plus years ago, we more than doubled the width of the upper deck and decided to add a lower deck as well.

There was just one problem. This huge oak tree stood right in the middle of where we wanted the lower deck. I think my husband would cut off his right arm before he would cut down a tree, and I didn’t want to lose it, either. So we decided to incorporate it into the deck design, making it the center of the attraction by building around it.

Imperceptibly, over the years, the tree has grown larger. At one point, I asked University Extension agent Ed Browning to come out and measure its circumference, height and spread to see if it would qualify for the county record. It was close, but there were others that were larger.

Eventually, the tree grew limbs that extended over the roof of our three-story house, some of them extremely heavy. We were concerned about the damage they might do should they break off during a severe windstorm. About four years ago, we had a tree-trimming company come and trim back some of the larger limbs and some of the dead smaller branches.

I was a nervous wreck while the trimmers worked. The tree was far too tall to allow for use of a normal ladder truck, so they had to climb high in the tree, saw off sections at a time and lower them to the ground by ropes. Some of the sections were so heavy I can’t imagine what would have happened had they dropped on someone. Fortunately, these trimmers were masters at the job, and no one was injured.

The tree is well over 100 inches in circumference at its base.

Recently we noticed that the tree had grown so large at its base that it was beginning to fill up its hole and even grow into the deck that surrounds it. This was not good. As a ”tree-hugger,” I felt very guilty about imprisoning this living thing.

After we made several attempts to find a good carpenter, Charles Yannayon, of Lamar, came to our rescue. He and his crew did a great job of re-engineering the deck supports and cutting out a larger hole so the old oak could breathe again. I figured “she” must have felt like a lady who in the not-too-distant past wore a really tight girdle all day and got to go home and take it off. I could almost hear the tree sigh with relief.

I am hoping she will live to a ripe old age because if anything happens to her, we will lose the wonderful shade over both decks, and the chattering of the birds and squirrels in her branches, not to mention a dear old friend.

ADDRESS CORRESPONDENCE to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email