What to do, what to do, with the 200-ton remains of Maryland's venerable Wye Oak?
Right after the tree crashed to the ground in a storm June 6, ideas started sprouting for its remains. In the last three months, 520 people have sent in a suggestion or two -- or five -- to the Governor's Wye Oak Advisory Committee, charged with the weighty task of deciding how best to preserve the trunk, branches, twigs and leaves of the 96-foot-tall tree. The majestic oak -- believed to be more than 450 years old -- was Maryland's tallest until it toppled.
Maryland proclaimed the Wye Oak its symbolic state tree in 1941, and many residents felt strongly connected to it. At 382 feet in circumference at its crown, it covered nearly a third of an acre. Its remnants now sit in a warehouse 20 miles northwest of Wye Mills, where the oak had stood.
"Make some picnic tables and a picnic area," kindly offered one concerned tree lover from Virginia. "A pavilion would be nice."
"Use part of it to make a solid oak desk for the governor's mansion," offered another.
"I suggest that the Wye Oak be made into crab mallets and given to the working people of the Chesapeake who harvest these creatures since 'Maryland is for Crabs,' " suggested someone else.
This compendium of ideas was put into a report to save committee members from the hassle of culling through all 520 suggestions from the public. Names were not attached to those ideas forwarded to the committee.
One letter writer pondering the next phase for the tree thought its precolonial status made it comparable to another beloved landmark: Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, where the Colts and the Orioles used to play, and which was torn down to be replaced by a retirement community. How about Wye Oak picture frames, "which would contain a photo or drawing" of the tree and could be "sold inexpensively" to those who wanted a souvenir, "as was done with the bricks from Memorial Stadium."
Someone else thought that, in addition to making a Wye Oak desk for Maryland's governor, a second one should be made and sent to "Prime Minister Tony Blair as a token of appreciation for his leadership in Britain's support of 'the War on Terror.' "
Or how about using the oak's rotting leaves, which were collected in trash bags, for an educational paper-making experience with students? The final, "limited edition" paper could be used for "very very special" awards or citations from the governor's office.
It's a brave new world for state officials.
"The state has never, ever, ever dealt with anything quite like this," notes Carolyn Watson, assistant secretary of Maryland's Department of Natural Resources. "It's not like going out and building a road."
DNR spokesman John Surrick described how enormous the tree was and what, um, a burden it could become: "I mean, it's huge! We had a company that moves houses come in just to figure out how to move it."
Out of these many thoughts offered on the Wye Oak's future, 43 were then elaborated upon in what is known in DNR-speak as an official "request for expression of interest." These have in turn been sorted by the agency into Good, Maybe and No Thanks categories. Soon, perhaps within the week, artists, business people and philanthropists and other creative tree-huggers should be hearing from the state about which projects will get the go-ahead.
"For every piece of the tree, there has been an interest expressed," Watson said. "This is an historic salvage effort, not a trash and removal effort."
Even potential sawdust, likely to be created when woodsmen start cutting the tree, has received attention: Someone suggested encasing it in plastic cubes for sale as souvenirs. The oak tree may have been the pride of the Free State, but it isn't likely to be as free in death as it was in life.
Most of those projects are likely to take a while to gear up. As Watson likes to say: "The good news is, the Wye Oak belonged to the state. The bad news is, the Wye Oak belonged to the state."
Which is to say, the state is into protecting everything, including the sawdust. The Department of Natural Resources has even sent out a request for bids -- for a group or a person -- to oversee the rest of the Wye Oak's immortalization.
"The state does not have someone with the time or expertise to manage all this wood," Surrick said.