The six-century-old "Holy Oak" in Basking Ridge, N.J., was cut down Monday. (Eva Nies)

It was a wonderful life. For some 600 years, the great white oak looked over the people of Basking Ridge, N.J., and the people of Basking Ridge looked after the tree. But when the tree failed to bloom last spring, dendrologists, arborists and a local historian or two were called in to consult. Their final verdict in late 2016: The old oak that was here before there was even a town — or a churchyard cemetery to shade — had succumbed to old age or climate change or just bad luck.

It would have to come down.

After a season of goodbyes, a giant crane moved into Basking Ridge on Monday and began the slow, careful task of dismantling the town's most treasured citizen. Throughout the day, according to local press, residents snapped pictures and shared stories as the workers cut limbs and weighed them. One tipped the scales at 8,000 pounds.

The oak had been majestic for centuries, as The Washington Post wrote in June:

The tree still stands close to 100 feet tall, and its branches extend more than 130 feet side to side. It anchors the north end of the center of Basking Ridge, a postcard-perfect town about 40 miles west of New York City. It’s a place where no one pays for parking on the main streets, where locals are used to greeting tourists who’ve come from all over the country specifically to marvel at the age and stamina of the town’s most famous occupant.

Of course, there have been other great oaks. … But the Holy Oak, as Basking Ridge’s tree is often called, kept going. It was struck more than once by lightning. It was blasted by Hurricanes Diane, Donna and Dora, then Floyd, Irene and Sandy. Through tornadoes and derechos, blizzards and floods, it buckled and bent. It swayed and swooned. But it never succumbed.

Workers will need another day or two to remove the tree's final remnants and cart them — yes, this is true — to an undisclosed location. But Basking Ridge has found consolation in the great oak's progeny. A New Jersey biologist collected acorns from the ancient one in 2001 and grew saplings in a special tree grove. One of those saplings, now 16 years old, was gently uprooted, carted two dozen miles from one county to the next and replanted on the other side of the cemetery of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church. The “Baby Oak,” as it has been affectionately nicknamed, has a lot to live up to.


(Eva Nies)

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